2012 Dodgers in Review #18: LF Shane Victorino

(w/ LA) .245/.316/.351 235pa 2hr 15sb 1.1 fWAR D

2012 in brief: Unpopular deadline day import was a huge disappointment in left field.

2013 status: Free agent, and hopefully one who suckers some other team into a multi-year deal.

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Remember, when Shane Victorino arrived on July 31, there wasn’t exactly a high bar for him to clear. He merely had to be better than Bobby Abreu, who was DFA’d to make room, and in that – if only that – he was, especially on defense. It really can’t be overstated just how bad left field was this year and how badly an upgrade was needed, which you’ll remember from our welcome to Victorino that day:

As I noted yesterday, left field is an absolute disaster right now, one that often gets lost among the James Loney & Juan Uribe infield atrocities. So make no mistake, whatever you think of Victorino, he is an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera and friends. That says a lot more about the incumbents than it does about Victorino, of course, but how much of an improvement really depends on which Victorino we’re going to be seeing. He’s in the midst of the worst year of his career, as his power and on-base skills have each largely disappeared, though he’s still effective on the bases (24 steals in 28 tries). This year, as over his career, he’s been crushing lefties, but the less said about his performance against righties the better. Since I really, really doubt he was acquired to be a platoon outfielder, that’s something we’re going to have to live with.

Still, the team is better with him in the outfield than it was without him, so that’s something.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, “being better than Abreu” is about the only positive thing we can say about Victorino’s time in LA, and you can follow his decline along with his position in the batting order. For his first 23 games as a Dodger, he was the leadoff man, tasked with getting on base so that heart of the order could take advantage of his speed to move him around the bases. It didn’t work; he hit .258/.314/.371 in that initial stretch at the top. Okay, fine, leadoff might not be right; what about second? On August 28, Don Mattingly placed Mark Ellis at the top and bumped Victorino down, hoping it would spark something. It did, but only more fan frustration when Victorino then hit .222/.306/.259 in 14 starts there.

On September 13, after we joked that Victorino could never really quit the Phillies, Mattingly all but admitted defeat by moving Victorino down to sixth in the order. All we could do was laugh at how bad it was:

Don Mattingly, to his credit, is finally accepting that he needs to do something to shake up the order, and whipping boy Shane Victorino has finally been bumped down to sixth, where he’ll strand the heart of the order when they finally decide to get on base and then ensure that Luis Cruz & A.J. Ellis bat with no one on base. (Joking, but only sort of.)

It didn’t matter. Over the final 16 games of the year, he hit .246/.328/.404, once even hitting as low as seventh, and while you can live with losing Josh Lindblom & Ethan Martin (and, ha, Stefan Jarrin, but who cares) to upgrade a position during a playoff push, it’s hard to stomach when the return ends up being so eminently disappointing.

Once again, I can’t help but point out that before the season, Victorino thought he might be in line for a five-year deal. On the wrong side of 30, coming off a poor season, he’ll be lucky if he can find three. Let’s just hope that it’s some other team who hands it to him.

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Next up! You know what? I still like Bobby Abreu!

Shane Victorino, Eternal Phillie?

I am totally making something out of nothing here, I’ll completely admit, but as I run around doing wedding errands today, I can’t stand to have last night’s game thread as the most recent post all day, because who wants to think about yet another awful game?

So instead, let’s focus on how it sounds, according to Barry Bloom of MLB.com, like Shane Victorino would seemingly rather be on a suddenly red-hot Phillies team than sucking it up in Los Angeles:

If you’re wondering, Victorino hasn’t left his nearly nine Philadelphia seasons behind.

“We’ve always been known as a second-half team,” Victorino said before checking himself. “I should say, ‘They’ always have been known to be. It’s not we anymore. I’m no longer part of that team. I’m here.”

(snip)

He’s a free agent after the World Series and at nearly 32, there was a question whether the Phillies wanted to re-sign him.

But Victorino still harbors hope he can go home again. At the same time, he’d be more than happy to remain with the Dodgers. They’re the organization that drafted him. He’s with them for the third time. It’s much closer to his Maui home than Philly. Now all he has to do is pick up his .257 batting average so those teams will show any interest.

Despite the trade, Victorino said he believes the path back to the Phillies is still unencumbered.

“At the Trade Deadline, they just wanted to give me an opportunity to come here to win,” he said. “They never said anything that the door was closed, so we’ll see what happens in regards to free agency and all that. But I’m not really focused on that. In the present time, I’m focused on this team and getting this team to the playoffs. But I’d entertain the possibility of going back. I’m not shutting the door on that.”

Accurate depiction? Opportunistic reporting? You decide. For me, no, I don’t think that we should act like Victorino “isn’t a Dodger” and that his distraction is the reason he’s hitting just .245/.311/.331 since arriving. But man, that doesn’t sound great, does it? Whether it’s because he wants to return to Philadelphia or because he’s not performing in Los Angeles, it seems all but certain that Victorino is in his final three weeks as a Dodger, and the way that trade has worked out so far, I can’t say that’s a disappointing prospect to me at all.

Shane Victorino’s Big Night Fuels Dodger Victory

Shane Victorino‘s only been okay since joining the Dodgers, but considering the absolute black hole crew he replaced out there, even that was an improvement. Tonight, Victorino was much more than that, showing why an upgrade in left field was so necessary while factoring into the first four of the Dodger runs.

Victorino put the first run on the board in the third inning by doubling home A.J. Ellis, who had also doubled; he then came around on a Matt Kemp single. In the fifth, he crushed his first homer as a Dodger off of Jeff Karstens, plating himself and pitcher Aaron Harang. (And well-timed, too; as Jon Weisman pointed out earlier today, power from left field for the Dodgers is an increasingly rare sight.)

The newest Dodger’s big game supported another reasonably effective outing from Harang, who was good enough through six innings that I wasn’t quite sure why he was lifted at that point. Ronald Belisario continued his recent struggles by allowing two to score on three hits in the eighth, but Kenley Jansen shut down the Pirates with little trouble in the ninth to start off the series with a win.

In addition to Victorino & Ellis, Kemp & Luis Cruz each had extra-base hits as well. Juan Rivera drove in a big run pinch-hitting for James Loney in the eighth, a run which proved to be huge after Belisario fell apart, but Loney, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy & Hanley Ramirez all went hitless. (On the bench, Don Mattingly chipped in with some massive #buntfail.) For Loney, his OBP drops to .297, the lowest it’s been since early March. At least he’s not Juan Uribe, I suppose, who made a rare appearance and of course swung at the first pitch before striking out and looking bad doing so.

With the win, the Dodgers pull back to within one-half game of San Francisco, as they send Ryan Vogelsong against Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals tonight.

Next Up, Shane Victorino, And More to Come?

As we’d expected for some time now, Shane Victorino is a Dodger, and there are going to be more than a few of you who are wildly unhappy about that. For me, I don’t care so much about his personal reputation – he does, after all, seem like the kind of guy you hate to play against yet love to have on your side – as much as I do about what he’s going to do to help the Dodgers win games.

As I noted yesterday, left field is an absolute disaster right now, one that often gets lost among the James Loney & Juan Uribe infield atrocities. So make no mistake, whatever you think of Victorino, he is an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera and friends. That says a lot more about the incumbents than it does about Victorino, of course, but how much of an improvement really depends on which Victorino we’re going to be seeing. He’s in the midst of the worst year of his career, as his power and on-base skills have each largely disappeared, though he’s still effective on the bases (24 steals in 28 tries). This year, as over his career, he’s been crushing lefties, but the less said about his performance against righties the better. Since I really, really doubt he was acquired to be a platoon outfielder, that’s something we’re going to have to live with.

Still, the team is better with him in the outfield than it was without him, so that’s something. Besides, an underrated yet important aspect to this is that it markedly improves the bench and/or infield by freeing Jerry Hairston up to fill in where needed, assuming we won’t be seeing him in left field so much. Perhaps that means third base if Hanley Ramirez does move to shortstop full-time, or perhaps it means the “everywhere” utility guy he was signed to be. Either way, that’s a plus.

Victorino didn’t come for free, and both Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin will be missed – though not quite as much as you’d think. I like Lindblom well enough, but he’s an eminently replaceable non-elite middle reliever with home run problems. Martin is someone a lot of people think of as having a bounceback season in his second try at Double-A, and while I’m still a fan of his, it’s more than a little concerning that his big year is one in which he’s walking “only” 4.7 per nine. I’m not happy to see him go, but he’s the kind of guy the Dodgers have several of.

Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs agrees on Lindblom, even if I know you won’t:

Lindblom is an extreme fly ball pitcher, as only 69 of his 141 career balls in play (34.3%) have been hit on the ground. Not surprisingly, that has translated into a bit of a home run problem, as he’s given up 1.05 HR/9, a bit above the league average for NL relievers. But, HR-prone fly ball guys can still be good relievers as long as they pound the strike zone and miss a lot of bats.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lindblom has been essentially average at those two things as well. His 9.0% BB%/22.7% K% are just barely ahead of the average marks for an NL reliever (9.2 BB%/21.7% K%), and are supported by the underlying numbers as well — he throws an average number of strikes and gets an average amount of contact.

Toss in the significant career platoon split (.244 wOBA allowed to RHBs, .360 wOBA to LHBs), and Lindblom essentially profiles as a decent situational middle reliever. This is basically the same skillset the Dodgers got in Brandon League, so their bullpen won’t take much of a hit at all in this series of moves.

It is, I will admit, still a large price to pay for two months of a declining outfielder. Will it be worth it? Well, that all depends on Victorino. If he plays well back in a pennant race as he completes his free agent push and helps the Dodgers deep into the playoffs, I doubt any of us will be complaining. If not? Could get ugly around here.

Oh, and there’s still 2.5 more hours to go. This trading season is far from over…

There’s a Bat Coming Soon

After so many years of writing this blog, I’ve been lucky enough to know some people who know some people – and if you’re reading this, no I’m not talking about you, or you, but oh, you? yes, it’s you – and the more I hear, the more I believe that the Dodgers are going to end up with either Shane Victorino or Alfonso Soriano (along with Ryan Dempster) in the 30 hours or so before the deadline hits.

This is not to say that I know for sure that either of those things are going to happen, because any deal can fall apart until the last second, or even that the Dodgers won’t surprise us with something completely out of left field (…or first base) that will knock our socks off. I kind of hope they do, but for the moment, let’s investigate these two seemingly most-likely possibilities.

Keeping in mind that it’s impossible to pre-judge a deal when we don’t know exactly what other players or dollar figures would be involved, Victorino & Soriano represent two very different paths to add another bat to the lineup. Actually, let’s back up for a second; for all of the ink spilled about how the Dodgers desperately need to upgrade at first, third, and shortstop (part of which was resolved by adding Hanley Ramirez, of course), the eight different Dodgers who have started a game in left field have been pretty awful as well. That group, led mostly by Bobby Abreu & Juan Rivera, have combined for a .273 wOBA which bests only Pittsburgh across MLB; if you switch to fWAR, which includes defense, they are dead last. That shouldn’t come as a total surprise, since Rivera’s signing was a mistake from the start and after a nice initial impression, Abreu has been brutal for two months, hitting only .207/.313/.288 with poor defense since June 1. This, much like the “anyone but Uribe” crowd, represents a situation where even someone flawed can represent an upgrade.

So yes, despite the vitriol still out there for James Loney & Juan Uribe, left field is a pretty big need as well, and Victorino & Soriano represent diametric opposites at this point. After some on-and-off years with Chicago, the 36-year-old Soriano is having something of a bounceback season for the Cubs, hitting .274/.324/.507 with 19 homers and defense that surprisingly ranks as average to slightly-above, depending on which (if any) of the advanced metrics you trust. I’ll be the first to admit that defensive metrics have a long way to go, and I’m not sure I buy the idea that he is somehow a “plus” outfielder, though it does seem we may need to admit that his reputation as an absolute trainwreck out there may seem to be slightly undeserved. To be honest, I was a little surprised in looking at Soriano’s last few seasons that he was never quite as bad as I had expected; yes, last year’s .289 OBP is ugly, but I was expecting Andruw Jones levels of futility based on what you hear about him, yet he’s hit between 20-33 dingers in each of his five previous five seasons as a Cub, so at least the power is still there, and without much of a platoon split.

The main problem with Soriano, of course, is that his contract is still brutal. Even if the Cubs pick up a significant portion of the $42m owed to him, you’re still left with a player signed for his age-37 and -38 seasons, at a time where outfield might be one of the few places where free agency offers upgrades. Soriano seems a clear upgrade for 2012, but how much can he be counted on for the next two years? It’s a difficult question to answer, especially in the non-DH league.

Victorino is only 31 – and seemingly one of the most hated players by Dodger fans, though I’m trying to just look at performance here – but he’s potentially cost himself tens of millions of dollars this year. (Lest you forget, he was saying last winter how he would be looking for a five-year contract this offseason, which seems laughable now; he seems like the next Aaron Rowand to me.) While he’s still providing quality defense in center and would presumably be even better in left, he’s suffering through the worst offensive season of his career, hitting only .261/.324/.401, or basically what Soriano is doing minus 100 points of slugging percentage. (Though he did have three hits and a homer off of Tim Hudson yesterday.)

A few days ago, Jack Moore looked at Victorino’s struggles at FanGraphs:

Victorino lost the ability to use left field as a left-handed batter in 2010, when he posted a .191 wOBA (8 wRC+) to the opposite field. Since then, Victorino has just eight extra base hits to left — seven doubles and a triple — with five of them coming in the 2011 season. This year, the power to the pull field has disappeared as well. For the first time in his career (outside of 2003′s cup of coffee) Victorino has a wRC+ below 100 as a lefty going to right field, at 73.

Instead of lofting the ball for doubles and home runs, Victorino is pounding the ball into the ground on the right side for outs. His 68.2% ground ball rate is a career high and his 11.4% line drive rate in the split is a career low. And the fly balls aren’t leaving the yard — his 16.7% HR/FB ties a career low (2006, 2008, and 2009 as well).

Victorino still has real value to offer a team, but he hasn’t looked like an everyday major league player this season. His deficiencies as a left-handed batter are getting too widespread to ignore, and it’s unlikely teams will be willing to give up major-league ready talent for a platoon outfielder.

That still makes him better than the current collection of Los Angeles left field dreck, particularly if he was platooned effectively to face lefties only, though I’m not sure I could see that happening in practice. The additional appeal is obvious, however: as a free agent following the season, he’s owed only about $4m and carries no further obligation.

Again, it’s difficult to compare these two players in a vacuum, because of the hugely differing contract situations and the fact that Soriano would almost certainly be part of a Dempster deal, making the overall package more complicated, but if I had to choose here… I think I’d have to go Soriano. He seems more helpful right now – I love that he doesn’t have such a platoon split, like Victorino does – and assuming that the Cubs are going to pay down as much of his contract as they can in order to get a better prospect, what’s left might not be so much that the Dodgers can’t just cut him over the next year or two if he suddenly goes all Garret Anderson on us.

Of course, so much can happen between now and the deadline, even though it’s only tomorrow afternoon. Maybe it’s not either of these two, but instead Hunter Pence or Josh Willingham or Shin-Soo Choo or B.J. Upton, or an infielder, or someone we haven’t even dreamed about. If it does come down to Soriano or Victorino, however, I think I’d have to lean Soriano (depending on cost, of course). He seems like the better bet to help the team in their playoff push this year, and besides – who really wants to root for Shane Victorino?