MSTI.com’s 2008 In Review: Left Field

Welcome to day 6 of MSTI.com’s 2008 season in review.  Today, we review left field where we will discuss Juan Pierre, Jason Repko, Terry Tiffee… and some scrub called… I think, Manny?

Manny Ramirez = …
(With LA: .396/.489/.743, 17 HR’s, 53 RBI’s)
Yes, notice that there is no grade next to Manny’s name.  Why, you ask?  Because no letter grade could ever do Manny justice.  Manny just transcends grades, at this point.  So, instead, we then have to ask: what is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in your life?  Or perhaps the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened?  Something that fills your heart with joy and utter happiness?
Perhaps puppies:

Maybe you just won the lottery:

Perhaps you just landed two girls to have a threesome with who will finally love you:

Maybe you just saved hundreds of dollars by switching your car insurance to Geico:

Or maybe you’re even like the guys from “Pulp Fiction” after they open the briefcase…

We happy?  Vincent?  We happy?
Yeah, we happy.
Translate all of this into a grade and, well, there you go; except even that doesn’t do it enough justice.
Who the hell are we kidding?  After a year and a half of writing articles on this blog, this, by far, has to be the most superfluous article I’ve ever had to write.  I mean, writing an article talking about how awesome Manny Ramirez is and trying to put up stats to prove my argument is like trying to show how crapulicious Andruw Jones was this year.  In other words: you don’t need ME to tell you, as this is one of the instances where the eyes don’t deceive and it’s just pretty fucking obvious.
But I’ll give it a shot, anyways.
Simply put, if you were able to watch what Manuel Aristides Ramirez did for this team in even the slightest capacity over the past two and a half months, be thankful: for you saw offensive production from a player at a rate at which has never been seen before in Dodger history.  His production was historical in that context and also in the sense that we will never likely see what he produced again.  But let’s not be mistakened: it’s not as if the Dodgers haven’t had incredible offensive years from players in their prime, from the days of Snider, Garvey, Piazza, Shawn Green, Gary Sheffield, Adrian Beltre in 2004, and other offensive powerhouses in their prime, but this is just another animal.
When he started off with his incredible hot streak the first week and a half, I think it’s safe to say that most of us thought that it wouldn’t really last.  We were wrong.  During his stint with the Dodgers, Manny had an OPS+ of 219.  Two hundred and fucking nineteen.  For those aren’t familiar, if you have an OPS+ of 100, that’s considered average.  What this means is that Manny was 119% better than the average player.  That’s just freaking insane.  In fact, I’m going to show you the rest of the notable statistics not so much to prove an argument moreso than to show just how absurd he was.  It’s literally comical:
He hit .396, with 17 HR’s, and 53 RBI’s.  O.K., you know that. But how about the fact that he had a 47.6 VORP to rank him 24th in all of baseball?  Now “Vin,” you might say.  “What’s so impressive about that?”  Well, that’s just Manny in L.A.  In fact, to compare, Vladimir Guerrero’s VORP throughout THE ENTIRE YEAR was 44.3.  Aramis Ramirez’s was 44.8, Justin Morneau’s was 45.5, Miguel Cabrera at 46.8, etc., etc.  So Manny’s VORP from August 1st throughout the end of the year was better than what these high profile names did the entire year.  Relative to other NL left fielders, he only ranks second in VORP to Matt Holliday’s 60.4.  If we compare this relative to the other Dodgers, only Andre Ethier comes within striking range, with a 39.7 VORP.  But remember: we’re only comparing two months of Manny to 5-6 months worth of production from the rest of the league.  That’s what’s so mindblowing about this.  He made video game numbers look pedestrian.
In terms of MLV, L.A. Manny ranked 11th in all of MLB at 43.9.  Again, relative to other left fielders, he only trails Matt Holliday, but this is much closer, with Holliday at 45.0.  Ramirez also put up an EqA of .401 and here’s the especially absurd part: Manny’s RC27 this year was 15.2.  What that means is that if there were 9 Manny’s in the lineup, the team would score on an average 15.2 runs per game.

Hell, he was even 2 runs above fielding average and had a 106 Rate2 in left field, which is more than adequate.  Actually, the above photo might be more pertinent with this than the offense.
But I could go on and on about the stats, but it’s rather futile: you KNOW how good he was, we all do.  However, what’s important to keep in mind is that it’s not just what he did at the plate that made these past two months so damn fun.  On July 31st, the Dodgers were 54-54 and, frankly, I don’t think many (outside of us diehards) cared much about them, nor were we particularly overly optimistic on their chances of a postseason berth.  Yes, the acquisition of Casey Blake helped matters, but once Manny arrived, the city of Los Angeles was just electrified.  I was fortunate enough to be there the night he debuted and, as I recapped about it, I had never seen Dodger Stadium as alive as it was and once the Dodgers won the final two games of the Arizona series to split, everything changed.  The city changed, the team changed and, in many ways, it really was Mannymania (or as he called it: Mannywood).
Having said that, let’s not completely get ahead of ourselves and only look at this through the rose colored glasses.  I think we’re all aware of what brought him to L.A. in the first place and his actions near the end of his tenure in Boston were hardly condonable and, while I do believe that some of this has been overblown since the trade and that he’s not 100% to blame, he is not exempt from it either.  But at the end of the day, you can argue all you wish about the reasons which caused Manny to leave Boston in the first place, and make some strong arguments against him in terms of how things ended, but what you can’t do is use that to take away the impact that he had on the field (and off) for the Dodgers.  When the trade was made, I said that its success was contingent on how well the Dodgers did.  Well, in retrospect?  I can’t say this trade was a failure.  At all.  While the team didn’t make the World Series, they accomplished at least the minimum of what they had to do: go deep into the postseason. If you told me at the beginning of the year that we would not only win our first postseason series in 20 years, but also win our first NLCS game in 20 years?  I’d be happy (yeah… we happy?).  We finally showed some big progress this season (in fact, our biggest in 20 years) and he played a huge, huge role in why that happened and also why this team was so damn fun to watch for the last month and a half.  He is really fun to watch on the field and he always looks like he’s having a ton of fun, which really makes him infectious, and not in the Jose Lima kind of way.  Manny was simply everything we could have hoped for and so much more.  He had the best offensive stretch in Dodger history and it’s kind of ironic and twisted that one of the other reasons we were able to land him was due to our center fielder having the worst stretch in Dodger history.  But even if Manny doesn’t come back and jettisons to another team, I will always be thankful to the man for what he brought to the team, to the city, and to all of us.  Unforgettable.
Thanks, Manny.
Juan Pierre = D
(.283/.327/.328, 1 HR, 28 RBI’s)
So, right after a competition in Spring Training between Pierre and Andre Ethier for the starting left field job, Joe Torre, in a surprising yet rare moment of competence, gave the nod to Ethier and regulated Pierre into the bench role.
Finally!  We rid ourselves of the Pierre Man!  The Juanster!  Herbert!  He’s sent to the bench in his rightful role and we will go on our merry way throughout the season with the three best outfielders!
Uh… no.  If only things were ever that simple in Dodgerville…
After some early season struggles by Matt Kemp and then, of course, the injury to Rafael Furcal, Pierre found himself back in the lineup and, more importantly, eventually back in the leadoff spot, where he would take over for Furcal.  Now I know Pierre has become the whipping boy here at MSTI and probably every other Dodgers blog out there since his arrival in L.A., last year.  So, with knowing this, why the D?  I mean, after all, if our grades have a lot to do on our expectations, what’s the deal?
Well, because in 2008, Juan Pierre even had trouble being Juan Pierre.
After being inserted into the leadoff role, in order to bring about more “speed,” “experience” and “patience,” at least according to his manager, Pierre stepped up with a killer line of .261/.293/.299 in 268 plate appearanes in the leadoff spot.  Just to compare, that young, impatient, whippersnapper Matt Kemp in the leadoff spot, this year): .305/.360/.492.
But it’s not just Pierre’s horrendous lead off skills that took a further dive, this year.  In 2008, we saw a decline in nearly every statistic; his .283 average and .327 OBP were his lowest since 2005, while his .328 SLG% and 4.1 RC27 were the lowest totals he’s had since 2002.  His MLV was a ridiculous -10.1 (which means he costs his team 10.1 more than the average player), a VORP of 1.1, and an EqA of .247, also his lowest since 2002.  For a man who will be on the wrong side of 30 next year who has a game that’s dependent on speed and has shown a steady decline since his 2003-2004 heyday in Florida… that’s not good.
For the sake of not beating a dead horse, I won’t rehash the Pierre argument yet again, but even by his own standards, which many supporters of the signing like to point to in terms of what our expectations should be, he failed to meet them.  But I will give him props for not at least publicly bitching about getting demoted to the bench… I’m guessing he might have learned from the last time.
Ultimately, Pierre’s fate with the Dodgers has a lot to do with what happens with Manny.  If Manny re-signs, there’s no way Pierre will get the playing time, as Andruw Jones will have first shot at center field and with Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp finally climbing up the depth chart above Pierre, it’s in the best interests of the organization and Juan’s to just end this relationship.  It’s not working and, chances are, it’s not going to.
Calling Dusty Baker…
Jason Repko = Inc.
(.167/.250/.222, 0 HR’s, 0 RBI’s)
If there was ever a player who defined the “incomplete grade” for this year, it is Jason Repko.  He only came up briefly and had a grand total of 18 AB’s.  While this is an incredibly small sample size, he looked pretty shitty at the plate, with 9 of those official plate appearances being strikeouts.  But, hey, he did have 3 hits.  Look out, Mark Sweeney.
On the other hand, the good news for Repko is that after missing 2007, he did come back to put up a solid 2008 season at Triple-A Las Vegas, hitting .283/.373/.449, with 12 HR’s and 50 RBI’s.
Funny how things change, though.  Remember when he got off to that great start in 2005 and some people were calling for him to perhaps be the Rookie Of The Year?  Or even the great start he got off to in 2006?  Time hasn’t been kind to Jason Repko, due to injuries and, well, just not being all that impressive from either side of the spectrum (no, folks, even though Kevin Kennedy might say he’s one of the best outfielders in the game, taking a route from left field to Pasadena and then back again to catch it while taking out your shortstop, and then airmailing the throw into the stands does not make a great outfielder).
But, hey, I’ll give him a few points for not killing anybody on the team during his brief stint up.
Terry Tiffee = Inc.
(.250/.400/.250, 0 HR’s, 0 RBI’s)
Actually, I was wrong.  Terry Tiffee defines the incomplete grade this year, stringing together a whopping 4 at-bats, this season.  Although this hardly describes the year he had in Triple A Las Vegas, where he absolutely destroyed the league by hitting .378/.416/.561 with 9 HR’s and 61 RBI’s.  Sure, these numbers might have come in the PCL, but they’re impressive regardless.
Yeah… so that’s why after 4 at-bats with the big club, he was DFA’d to make room for Angel Berroa.
Thankfully, he wasn’t claimed, but you can add Tiffee to the list of people who should have saw MUCH more playing time than he did in L.A.  In fact, with the numbers he was putting up in Las Vegas, perhaps we could have used even a fraction of that coming off the bench, after it increasingly clear that if you’re hitting below .100 like Sweeney was then, chances are, you’re not very good? I mean, if he didn’t work out, then all you replaced was, again… Sweeney.
Wow.  What a loss that would have been.
Alas, it wasn’t to be, putting an end to one of our more vocal campaigns of the year: Free Terry Tiffee.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

MSTI’s First Half Review: Offense

Is it that time of the year already? Sure, it’s not really “halfway” through the year since the Blue have already played 95 games, but here we are at the All-Star break. This won’t be as extensive as last year’s season reviews, since there’s only three days to do it in, but it still will touch upon everyone who appeared in a game for the Dodgers this year. So today is offense, tomorrow pitching, and the next day will be front office/coaching staff/awards/overall grade. And on Thursday, a big MSTI announcement. How did we do this last year? That’s right:

First, some quick ground rules. Completely unscientific and arbitrary, this is how we’ve seen the results of the season. One important distinction, is that the letter grade is based upon what we reasonably could have expected of the player entering the year, not comparing him to other MLB players at his position. You’ll soon see why this is so important.

Less than 10 IP or 100 at-bats gets you an “incomplete”. Stats are presented (BA/OBP/SLG).

We’ll knock that down to 50 at-bats for the half-season review, but everything else remains the same.

Catcher
Russell Martin (.294/.394/.436 10hr 45rbi) (A+)
Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall. His 118 OPS+ is up 5 from last year, and while his slugging % is down slightly (.029 less than last year), it’s more than made up by his exemplary .394 OBP, which is actually better than Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, and Hanley Ramirez. Plus, he plays third base! What can I say? This guy’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s the best player, and he never complains. Love this guy. Love him.

Gary Bennett (.190/.261/.381 1hr 4rbi) (incomplete)
What a weird, weird season for the initial 2008 recipient of the Mike Lieberthal Memorial “Guy Who Rots on the Bench Behind Russell Martin” Award. Bennett only really got notice in two of my posts all season, and they couldn’t be more divergent – first, he got some recognition for a good game in Milwaukee on May 15, and then just five days later we cheered his being placed on the DL, saying,

“Left foot plantar fasciitis.” Let me say, the quotes could not be thicker around that. We’ve had no word of any injury problems surrounding Bennett, but tons of stories about his throwing problems, and suddenly his foot hurts? Hey, call it a bad foot, the flu, or the heebie-jeebies; whatever it takes to get this guy’s head right and get those lollipop throws off the field. Seriously, he even made Rotoworld today, which is rare for a mediocre backup catcher, and at no point is the foot mentioned.

Thanks for showing up, Gary. Lousy hitter who can’t throw – fantastic. If you wanted to hit the slots in Vegas the rest of the summer, that’d be A-ok by me.

Danny Ardoin (.211/.250/.263 0hr 2rbi) (incomplete)
Another member of the Loyal Order of Backup Catchers, Ardoin’s been.. well, he’s an improvement on Bennett, anyway. He’s not much of a hitter either, but everything I’ve read about him says that the pitchers like throwing to him way better than Bennett. As far as I’m concerned, the team is screwed if Martin’s hurt anyway, so it doesn’t really matter all that much which one backs him up, but I’d really like it if it would be Ardoin rather than Bennett, whenever he’s healthy. Amazingly enough, Ardoin’s already doubled Mike Lieberthal’s RBI total from last season.

First Base
James Loney (.291/.351/.446 7hr 50rbi) (C+)
Loney gets a C+ not because he’s been that lousy, but simply because we had such high expectations for him. After last year’s offensive explosion in the second half, who among us wasn’t drooling at the prospect of him playing 1B for the entire season? But after the first two months, he was only hitting in the .270s with 5 homers. Of course, he dominated in June (.362/.425/.500), only to fall back in July, hitting just .224 so far. He’s been.. okay. Not bad, not great. I still think he’s got it in him to pick it up.

Second Base
Jeff Kent (.253/.304/.407 9hr 40rbi) (C-)
This, I must say, was a tough one. On one hand, he was really bad for a good portion of the season – I assume you haven’t forgotten the whole chase to be the worst cleanup hitter of the last 50 years, but on the other hand, Kent’s 40 years old, and how much can you ever depend on a guy that age, anyway? At least he’s been able to stay relatively healthy, and his bat has turned it around a bit lately.

On the plus side, no one’s accusing Kent of being involved in any clubhouse fiascos so far, so at least he’s got that going for him. 

Third Base
Blake DeWitt (.263/.330/.372 5hr 34rbi) (A)
Just like Kent, this is a tough grade to assign. I know it seems like a long time ago now, but do you remember how desperate this team was at the hot corner at the end of March? Nomar was hurt, LaRoche was hurt, Abreu was hurt, and the trade options were either unavailable or unappealing. So we turn over the job to the guy who was guaranteed to put up Hu-like offensive numbers. Except that.. he was good. Really good, slugging .517 in May. He was a lock for Rookie of the Year and surprise of the year. Go Blake!

Of course, great story aside, he’s cratered since then, with just 4 extra base hits in the last 6 weeks, which is Pierre-like levels of mediocrity. Ah hell, it doesn’t matter. He shouldn’t be starting every day anymore, but that’s a topic we’ve already covered. He gets an A simply because I shudder to think what would have happened if he hadn’t held things down for the first two months.

Andy LaRoche (.192/.294/.341 2hr 3rbi) (incomplete)
Seems like LaRoche is shaping up to be part of the next Dodgers holy war, following in the footsteps of Juan Pierre and Hee-Seop Choi. No, he hasn’t done much in the bigs. But the people who want to write him off are insane – he’s gotten just 44 at-bats this year. Look, he’s got nothing more to prove in the minors (career .895 OPS). The Dodgers need power. Blake DeWitt is slumping badly. So then why can’t LaRoche ever start more than two games in a row? Why has he been benched the day after hitting a home run both times? Some things, I’ll never understand.

Shortstop
Rafael Furcal (.366/.448/.597 5hr 16rbi) (R)
That’s right, I gave Furcal an “R”. Why? Because the best way I can sum up his 2008 is “ARRRRRRRGGGHH!!!!” From the best start of his career, to an injury that was to keep him out a few days, to surgery that will end with him missing 4 months. Despite everything that’s gone wrong with this season, it’s hard to point to anything that was more damaging than this. Furcal’s back woes not only cost the team its hottest hitter, but lead to the failings of Hu, the misery of Angel Berroa, and the so-far entertaining Nomar era. Think about it, the Dodgers are one game out. It’s not much of a stretch to say that if Furcal had stayed healthy, the Dodgers are in first place, is it?

Angel Berroa
(.192/.253/.219 0hr 0rbi) (F)
I have to say, of all the stats I looked up for this article, Berroa surprised me more than anybody. He really has zero RBI? Not even one? Despite starting 21 games? That would be incredible, if it weren’t so depressing. Look at it this way, Berroa’s had 72 at-bats without an RBI. That’s the most in MLB by a large margin, nearly double the 40 at-bats by Washington’s Roger Bernadina. Yikes! Actually, now that I think about it, maybe Berroa doesn’t deserve an F here. Maybe he should be getting a C. I mean, it’s not like we didn’t all know he was going to suck from day one. And to the surprise of no one except perhaps Ned Colletti, he has. He’s been exactly as bad as we thought, not that it was possible to be any worse, so in that sense he’s been the average Angel Berroa.

Nah, forget it. Big. Fat. F.

Chin-Lung Hu
(.159/.224/.206 0hr 7rbi) (D)
This really should be an F, because Hu’s utter failure to perform once Furcal went down has to rank as one of the bigger disappointments of the season. The only thing bumping him up to a D is the fact that his defense more than lived up to its sparking reputation. But I don’t think it was too much to expect that he had a shot to be a decent hitter, since after a breakthrough 2007 where he OPS’d .871 in the minors, he popped 2 dingers in 29 late-season at-bats in the bigs. And then.. fizzle. Now, he’s apparently had some vision issues since returning to AAA, so if that’s what caused this, I haven’t completely given up on him. It’s just that if he could have been even a mediocre hitter, we could have kept his slick glove in the lineup and avoided the entire Berroa fiasco.

Infield
Nomar Garciaparra (.250/.328/.400 2hr 12rbi) (!!!)
What a year for Nomahhh. Breaks his hand in spring training, comes back to play in all of 8 games (hitting .226) before hurting his calf and missing two more months.. only to return at shortstop. You can’t make this stuff up. In fact, I wish I had predicted this in the offseason, just so I could see what kind of responses I’d have gotten saying that I’d completely lost my mind. Remember last year when Nomar couldn’t be moved from 1B to 3B to make room for Loney because he was “too fragile”? Well, a year and several injuries later, now he’s playing shortstop. Unbelievable. He’s hit okay since coming back (.286/.333/.500 in 8 games), but there’s just no way this doesn’t end with him somehow spontaneously combusting turning a double play, right?

Luis Maza
(.228/.282/.278 1hr 4rbi) (C… ish)
Remember, we’re doing these grades based not on how they compare to the rest of the league, but based on how a player has performed based on reasonable expectations at the beginning of the season. This is why Hu gets a D, since he was below expectations, and why DeWitt gets an A, since he was so far above. The only time this method runs into a problem is in the case of Luis Maza, because for someone who runs a Dodgers blog and likes to think he knows entirely too much about the Dodger organization.. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of this guy coming into the season. So it’s hard to say I had any expectations of him. That said, he’s been pretty much what you’d think he’d be – a quad-A player who’s a mediocre hitter and a decent fielder, albeit with a particularly lousy arm.

Mark Sweeney
(.094/.181/.125 0hr 3rbi) (?)
Sweeney gets a question mark for a grade. That’s partially because he doesn’t even deserve to attain a letter, but mostly to represent the question of, Why is Mark Sweeney on This Team? He serves no function. He’s a pinch-hitter who can’t hit. He can’t hit lefties. He can’t hit righties. He can’t hit at home. He can’t hit on the road. He can’t hit during the day. He can’t hit at night. We do not like him here or there, we do not like him anywhere.  His OPS is negative 18, which I believe means he’s lapsed into some sort of an unknown dimension. He’s 38 years old, and he’s got 6 hits in 72 at-bats! It’s the end of the line, and it’s just stubbornness on the part of the Dodgers front office that they allow him to keep making outs (he’s supposedly coming off the DL on Friday). I would love to know what kind of pictures Sweeney must have of Colletti with a lampshade on his head in order to keep his job.

Time to go, Mark. Time to go.

Terry Tiffee
(.250/.400/.250 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Tiffee only went 1-4 in his short time up, but I’ve been backing him for over two months. Now back at Vegas, he’s kept up his amazing season, currently rocking a .396/.434/.598 line. Sure, say it’s a fluke, say whatever you like. Maybe you’re right. But there is simply no argument you can use to convince me that he shouldn’t be taking Mark Sweeney’s place. None. Tiffee is more useful than Sweeney in every conceivable way – hitting, fielding, versatility, you name it. (And I did, right here.) I suppose I’m venturing more into Colletti territory than Tiffee, but really, all Tiffee’s done is hit all year long. What else does he have to do?

Tony Abreu (n/a) (incomplete)
Knock, knock.”
“Hello?”
“Is this Mr. Abreu?”
“Yes, who are you?”
“I’m opportunity. And I’m knocking.”
“Hmm.. thanks, but no thanks. Bye!”

Outfield
Matt Kemp (.278/.331/.437 9hr 49rbi 20sb) (B)
We’ve exhausted a lot of pixels on Kemp around here lately, so I won’t revisit it all again. But suffice it to say, there’s been nothing boring about Kemp’s season. To wild trade rumors to arguments about what type of player he is and will be, Kemp’s been front and center. As you probably know, considering his age and inexperience, I’m pretty satisfied with what he’s done, especially his improvement in the outfield. The strikeouts have to be cut, of course, but remember that he’s only 23. Guys like Matt Holliday and Ryan Howard hadn’t even made their debuts by 23, instead being allowed to develop in the minors. Considering Kemp’s already been (roughly) an average MLBer at that age, let’s cut the kid a little slack, okay?

Andre Ethier (.286/.350/.464 11hr 41rbi) (A-)
Don’t look now, but Ethier is leading the entire team in homers and slugging %. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who’s been continually jerked around in terms of playing time when both Jones and Pierre were available. He gets a bit of a demerit for that .195 June, but he’s come roaring back in July with a 1.061 OPS. So of course, we can look forward to him seeing some bench in two weeks when Pierre returns. Because that’s what a team who can’t hit should do – bench their biggest power hitter. Amazing.

Juan Pierre (.277/.327/.318 0hr 24rbi 35sb) (D)
This isn’t the place to rehash the whole Pierre argument yet again, but it’s pretty simple, as far as I’m concerned. He’s having the worst season of his career by every single offensive stat (save steals), which is saying a lot when it’s the fourth straight season he’s declined since his career year of 2004. Regardless of how you feel about him, he’s not even living up to his own mediocre standards. That’s not good, and I can’t imagine it’ll be any better if his knee is any less than 100% when he comes back. Yet Joe Torre is infatuated with him, but I guess that’s something more to discuss in Torre’s review. Of 19 MLB leftfielders with enough at-bats to qualify, Pierre is dead last in OPS, coming in nearly 340 points lower than leader Matt Holliday’s. That’s not just bad, that’s really bad.

By the way, in that “career year”, his OPS+ was 107 (it’s down to 69 this year). Andre Ethier’s this season is 110. Just sayin’.

Andruw Jones (.167/.261/.253 2hr 9rbi) (you don’t even deserve a letter, Andruw)
What. A. Disaster. Hey, we’re not always right at MSTI either, because we both supported this deal when it was signed. But geez. I can’t even get on Colletti for this one, because really, who the hell saw this happening? If you didn’t see this link the other day, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark says Jones is on pace for the Worst Offensive Season in Baseball History.

You know what, I can’t even talk about him. You don’t need stats on this one. You have eyes. You’ve watched the Dodgers. He’s awful, and no one seems to know why. What a mess.

Delwyn Young (.255/.327/.343 1hr 5rbi) (C-)
Have to admit, I’m a little torn on Delwyn. We’ve been big fans of his for a while, because on a team that’s struggling so badly offensively, a guy who’s done nothing but kill the ball at every stop would seem like a useful player to have. I mean, it was just last season that he broke a 41-year-old PCL record for doubles. That said, he hasn’t really done all that much with the big club this season. Oddly enough, his stats are the exact opposite of what I had thought; I was all set to say “but he doesn’t get to play that much with the OF logjam, and its hard for a kid to be a pinch-hitter”. Except that as it turns out, he’s hitting .342 off the bench vs. only .203 as a starter.

Jason Repko (.000/.000/.000 0hr 0rbi) (incomplete)
Oh, Jason. Poor Jason. Just can’t catch a break. You come up and go 0-5 with 4 K’s in your first game, and then get all of two more at-bats before getting sent down, probably for good. Damn shame, really.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

So Long, Terry Tiffee

I think I outlined the reasons for not being so thrilled with the Angel Berroa acquisition pretty clearly yesterday, so I won’t rehash them again. But what’s the only thing worse than making a bad decision? Compounding it with another bad decision:

Shortstop Angel Berroa, acquired Friday night from Kansas City, arrived in time for Saturday’s game, necessitating the removal of infielder Terry Tiffee from the roster.

Tiffee was designated for assignment, giving the Dodgers 10 days to trade, release or outright him if he clears waivers. His departure leaves the Dodgers a little thin for corner infielders, a situation that could be solved by the promotion of Andy LaRoche. That move could accompany the demotion to Triple-A of Chin-lung Hu, whose role is being taken by Berroa.

In order to get Berroa onto both the 25 and 40-man rosters, someone was going to have to go. Hey, I hate to use such a hackneyed blind comparison chart as I’m about to use, but sometimes it’s a cliche because it just works:
 

  Player 1 Player 2

Age

29

38

Hits

Switch

Left

Fields

1B/3B/LF/RF

1B/LF

2008:

.422/.464/.609 (AAA)

.130/.226/.174 (MLB)

Hey, one of those guys looks to be a little more valuable than the other, no?

Obviously, Player 1 is Tiffee and Player 2 is the utterly useless Mark Sweeney. So let me get this straight. You’ve got a younger player who can play more positions, hit from both sides of the place, and has been absolutely murdering the ball in AAA. Yet, you decide to just cut him in order to keep a player who’s 9 years older, can barely play the field, and has a OPS+ of SIX? I just can’t fathom the logic that goes into decisions like this. After dominating the PCL for two months, Tiffee got all of four at-bats in the bigs (collecting a hit, which puts him 1/6th of the way towards Sweeney’s season total). And now he’s told to hit the road so a player who’s clearly inferior in every single way can stick around. It just blows the mind sometimes.

Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

The MSTI Master Plan for Third Base

Over at the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, my preferred Dodgers discussion board, a discussion began recently which really pointed out the amazing progression of the third base situation over the last six weeks or so. We’ve gone from having the main two competitors getting hurt in the same game; to scanning the trade winds for anyone resembling a third baseman; to having an untested rookie forced into a situation which he had no business being in; to now having a surplus in the coming days.

So let’s take a look at what’s going to happen here in the near future. With Blake DeWitt having the 2nd-best OPS on the team and a sterling glove, how can we really send him down? Now that Andy LaRoche is healthy and hitting well in Vegas, how long can we keep him down there? What to do about Nomar Garciaparra, who is likely to begin a short rehab assignment this week? Finally, Terry Tiffee is still hitting .430/.471/.630 in Vegas, and just how long does he have to keep that up before we consider this more than a fluke?

Let’s go with the process of elimination. 

I like Terry Tiffee as much as anyone, but while I’m more than willing to dump Mark Sweeney and bring him up to be a bat off the bench, what he’s doing is so far off his career history that I can’t really see him as a real option to be the everyday starter. That said, I don’t particularly like the idea of letting this guy waste the hottest streak of his life in the minors, so I’d like to either bring him up or try to trade him – but I’m not exactly ready to install him as “the guy”. So he’s out.

Then there’s Nomar. He’s cooked. There’s no way around it. He’s probably the 4th best hitter right now of the 4, and while I guess I really have no idea how good of a defensive 3B Tiffee is, I think I can safely say Nomar’s 3rd at best of the 4, behind DeWitt and LaRoche. Look, I know we all like the guy. Angelenos love him because he’s a local boy, and I personally enjoyed his dominance for years, as his peak coincided with my college years spent in Boston. But he had a 78 OPS+ in 2007, and in between two DL stints already, he’s at 66 this year. (Remember, 100 is the league average for that year. This means he’s 34% worse than your average NL hitter this year.) It’s tough for everyone to admit it, but he can’t hit, field, or stay healthy.  But he does have the biggest name, and makes by far the most money – so of course I have no doubt he’ll get the most playing time when he’s healthy.

Really, to me, it’s between Andy LaRoche and Blake DeWitt. I think we all agree that LaRoche has the higher ceiling, but how do you move DeWitt when he’s got the 2nd highest OPS on the team? Think about that for a second: other than Rafael Furcal, who is probably one of the top 5 players in baseball thus far in 2008, Blake DeWitt has the highest OPS on the Dodgers. Plus, I know I’ve been through these stats before but they continue to amaze me every single time:

Blake Dewitt, 2008, as compared to all MLB 3B with at least 75 at-bats
BA: .323 (3rd)
OBP: .398 (5th)
SLG: .479 (8th)
OPS: .877 (5th)
Range Factor: 3.42 (1st)
Zone Rating: .835 (5th)
VORP: 9.2 (6th)

Remember, that’s in all of Major League Baseball. Do you remember at the beginning of the season when we seriously wondered if he’d be able to manage .200, whether the crushing disappointment he was sure to receive at the MLB level would torpedo the entire rest of his career, and whether we could possibly live with such a player until Nomar/LaRoche were healthy? Now he’s practically an All-Star. Right now, I just cannot see moving DeWitt. Will he keep it up? Who knows? But at this point, anything is possible.

However, we also can’t just let LaRoche sit in AAA; he obviously has nothing left to prove there. He’s also proving that he’s healthy; in 12 games in Las Vegas, he’s got a .324/.500/.676 line with 4 homers and a fantastic 2/12 K/BB ratio. Leaving him there is letting a good talent stagnate, and he deserves his shot in the majors too.

So what to do? You can’t move DeWitt, yet you can’t deny LaRoche his chance any longer. Here’s what I do: absolutely nothing until Rafael Furcal proves he is healthy. In the meantime, get LaRoche some playing time at 2B in Vegas. No, I’m not so sold on DeWitt that I’m willing to tell LaRoche he’s completely off of third base, but as a college SS it’d be worth it to see if he can handle it – I’ll explain this more in a second. Once Furcal is back and shows he can play every day, send down Chin-Lung Hu and activate Nomar; DFA Mark Sweeney and bring up LaRoche. This benefits Hu by letting him play SS every day in preparation for an everyday gig in 2009, either in LA if Furcal isn’t signed or elsewhere if he is. This also benefits the Dodgers by no longer having Mark Sweeney taking up a roster spot – he’s hitting .154 (4-26) and provides no defensive value whatsoever. On a team with a roster crunch like this squad is about to have, there’s just no place for a dedicated pinch-hitter who can’t even do that.

If LaRoche shows he’s not a total butcher at 2B in AAA (I don’t believe he would be, as he was a college SS, and besides, Delwyn Young did start at 2B on Sunday and there’s no way he’s worse than that) we get him time at both 2B and 3B. I agree with those who say that a week or two at 2B in the minors isn’t enough for a full fledged position switch, but he just has to be Kent’s caddy there, not an everyday thing. Figure DeWitt starts 4-5 days a week at 3B, LaRoche gets 2-3 starts a week at 3B, 1 at 2B, and more time subbing for Kent in the late innings.

Here’s the tricky part: it makes Nomar our backup SS (and 1B, without Sweeney, which is fine by me). When Furcal is healthy, he plays every single day. I’m sure Nomar’s not great at SS these days, but I think I could live with a former All-Star at the position having to play there, in a very limited capacity, every once in a while. If anything happens to Furcal where we need more than a one-day replacement at SS, Hu is only a short trip away in Vegas. Where Terry Tiffee remains in this scenario, I suppose, as even more depth if (okay, when) Nomar hurts himself again.

And hey, after writing this but before posting it, I see Ken Gurnick agrees with me!

What would you do when Garciaparra returns?
– Glen W., Hollywood, Calif.

Assuming DeWitt continues to handle the position well, I would turn Garciaparra into the versatile utility infielder that the Dodgers desperately need. During the offseason, when it was assumed that LaRoche would make a strong bid for the starting third-base job, Garciaparra was being readied for moving all around the infield. Clearly, second baseman Jeff Kent at age 40 needs more rest than in earlier years. Rafael Furcal just missed a week with a bad back and the offense really sputtered without him. Garciaparra’s ability to play all four infield positions would make it easier for the Dodgers to keep 12 pitchers. Plus, Garciaparra has been injured repeatedly since coming to the Dodgers and spot duty might help him avoid injuries. And regardless of DeWitt’s relative inexperience, he’s done nothing to show that he doesn’t deserve to keep playing.

The benefits of this plan include:
* Seeing if Blake DeWitt keep this performance up; if not, simply stop playing LaRoche at 2B and recall Hu
* Finding out if Andy LaRoche can prove he can hit in the majors
* Discovering if LaRoche can prove to be adequate at 2B; if so, we might have our post-Kent plan right there
* Letting Chin-Lung Hu play every day in AAA rather than man the bench in the bigs
* Relegating Nomar to backup 1B/3B/SS/vet bat off the bench, which is really where he ought to be anyway
* Upgrading the offense from the bench (Hu/Sweeney to Nomar/LaRoche is just no comparison)
* Improving defensive flexibility, as we’d have three 3B candidates instead of our current one, and Sweeney is almost a non-factor in the field anyway.

Really, the only downsides here are a defensive downgrade off the bench, as obviously Hu is far superior to anyone else, and the possibility of Nomar being unhappy with his bench position. I suppose you could also point out that losing Sweeney’s left-handed bat and replacing him with two right-handed bats hurts the pinch-hitting strategies, but I find that to be a non-issue as Young is a switch-hitter and either Either or Pierre are usually on the bench anyway.

As for me, I love this plan so much that I know it will NEVER EVER HAPPEN.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Free Terry Tiffee!

That’s right, one loss after eight wins in a row and it’s time for massive roster shakeups!

Just kidding, of course. But if you haven’t noticed what’s going on in Las Vegas – and unless people call you Torgy, you probably haven’t – Terry Tiffee is absolutely destroying the Pacific Coast League. “Big deal,” you might say. “So a guy with some MLB service time is putting up some nice numbers very early in the season in a hitter’s league. So what?”

I’ll tell you “so what”. It’s one thing to go 4 for 10 over three games and say you’re hitting .400. And it’s quite another to be 118 at-bats into your season and have the following line:

.475/.515/.703. 

That’s a 1.218 OPS.

You know how sometimes you see gaudy numbers and people say, “wow, that’s video game numbers!” Forget that – I couldn’t even do this in a video game. He’s got 56 hits in 118 at-bats. That’s not a small sample size; that’s a man simply abusing the poor pitching staffs of the PCL.

He’s even caught the eye of Baseball Prospectus (this is from a few days ago, so the numbers aren’t exactly the same – and unless we made a trade with Pittsburgh I missed, that’s Andy LaRoche, not brother Adam), who gave him an honorable mention for April Minor League hitter of the month:

Tiffee is a former semi-prospect with the Twins as a third baseman, but is now a 29-year-old journeyman. Nonetheless, he’s taken advantage of a great home park to hit an absolutely ridiculous .486 in his first 26 games, going 51-for-105. He’s not a prospect, but he is why Adam LaRoche is returning from his injury a rung down, at Double-A Jacksonville.

It’s a fair point – he’s not a prospect, putting up a .624 OPS over 239 at-bats in parts of three seasons (2004-06) with Minnesota. But the fact is, if a .475 average doesn’t get you out of Triple-A, what does? No one’s saying he’s found some sort of magical secret to hitting (although…) and that he’d do anything like this in the bigs. But really, there’s only two outcomes to this crazy hit binge he’s on:

1) It’s a huge fluke, and he’s having the time of his life, which will likely come to an end soon, or
2) He’s a late bloomer who’s somehow had it all click for him, and he’s finally ready to be a productive major league hitter

Either way, wouldn’t it be better for him to be putting this crazy run he’s on to use in the bigs? Even if it really is just a hot streak, then there’s no sense in wasting what’s left of it in the minors, so let’s ride him until he drops.

Even better, he’d fit in perfectly on the Dodgers the way the current roster is constructed. Tiffee is a third baseman by trade, and has also logged time at first base and left field this season. How perfect is that? Right now, this team has no backup third baseman other than our All Star catcher, which is an entirely separate and mind-blowing discussion. This team has no backup first baseman other than pinch-hitter “extraordinaire”, 38-year old, .095-hitting, Mark Sweeney.

I know it won’t happen, because Joe Torre seems to love guys like Sweeney. But, Tiffee serves a much greater purpose in the field than Sweeney, and right now he’s 1000 times the hitter Mark is too. Even if Tiffee does turn out to be a total mirage, all we’ve lost is… Mark Sweeney and his .095 batting average.

More importantly, now is the time for this. Andy LaRoche is officially off the DL and has been optioned to Vegas to get at-bats, so he can’t be recalled for 10 more days. Nomar doesn’t seem like he’s going to be available in the next week or two either, so before we have to start finding roster spots for those guys.. let’s see what we actually have here.

Free Terry Tiffee!

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg