Non-Tender Monday

Tonight at 12am ET / 9pm PT represents the deadline for the Dodgers to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and while there’s not quite the “will they or won’t they?” drama that accompanied the Russell Martin decision last year, there’s still some choices to be made. Entering the off-season, the Dodgers had seven eligible players to decide upon…

… but obviously, Kemp’s new mega-deal and Eveland’s trade to Baltimore takes them out of the mix. Let’s look at the other five.

Kershaw. Uh, yeah. Pretty sure the reigning NL Cy Young is going to get tendered, and assuming he doesn’t sign a long-term deal, he’s in line for something like $7-$8m in his first year of arbitration. Yes, of course.

Gwynn. Though this is his second year of eligibility, Gwynn hasn’t actually gone through the arbitration process, since San Diego non-tendered him last December. After signing with the Dodgers for $675,000, he provided the expected mixture of mediocre offense and outstanding defense, in addition to being a useful piece on the bases. Though I think you could probably do a little better with the roster spot, he’s an acceptable backup outfielder, and so the question of whether he gets an offer comes down to numbers, both in terms of money and personnel. Gwynn could get over $1m in arbitration, perhaps more than the Dodgers want to spend, and the addition of Jerry Hairston means that they now have someone who can in theory spell Matt Kemp now and then in center field. In addition, if the Dodgers do plan on adding that additional bat we keep hearing about, there just might not be room for Gwynn on the roster, particularly if the addition is left-handed. Still, the outfield defense is subpar and Hairston isn’t really ideal in center, so Gwynn is valuable enough for his glove alone; I think it’s slightly more likely than not that he is tendered, though this is clearly the toughest call of any today. Probably.

Loney. It’s amazing to think that this is even a consideration after how certain we were for much of 2011 that he was absolutely going to get non-tendered, but Loney’s stellar finish seems to have earned him another chance, at least based on Ned Colletti’s comments of late. Loney’s recent (and increasingly bizarre) run-in with the law on a Los Angeles freeway last month aren’t helping his case, though it doesn’t appear to have hurt his standing with the club, and assuming the Dodgers have no prayer at landing Prince Fielder, there’s few other first base alternatives left anyway. Yes.

Kuo. The inverse of Loney, where a year ago it was difficult to imagine that a non-tender was even a possibility. If an awful 2011 was the only issue, you could perhaps see the club taking a chance, but yet another arm surgery torpedoed any shot that they’d risk the ~$3m he’d get in arbitration. That doesn’t mean we’ve definitely seen the last of him, however, because it’s unlikely any other club gives him a serious offer, and if he returns to baseball, he might not feel comfortable trusting his fragile health to a training staff who doesn’t know him nearly as well as the Dodgers do. No.

Ethier. Despite worrying before the season that he’d be non-tendered if he didn’t perform well and then going out and having an injury-plagued, sub-par season, Ethier’s a lock to receive a tender. He’ll likely receive about $12m in his final season of arbitration, and while that’s a bit pricey for me, I’m relatively optimistic he’ll have a productive season – and if the Dodgers are out of it in July, they can trade him and save about $4m of that. Yes.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Left Field

Ah, left field: where hope goes to die. No, really; over the last ten seasons (2002-2011), the Dodgers have had 47 different players make an appearance in left field, and it’s not like they were all token appearances – 34 of the 47 were out there at least ten times. Who can forget the 48 games and .661 OPS from Jason Grabowski in 2004-05? The continuing stream of busted veterans like Luis Gonzalez, Ricky Ledee, and Jose Cruz conspiring to keep superior young players out of the lineup in 2006-07? And dear lord, Garret Anderson and Scott Podsednik on the same roster (though, thankfully, not at the same time) last year? With the obvious exception of Manny Ramirez‘ monster performance in 2008 and parts of 2009, the only Dodger left fielder with any meaningful playing time to put up an OPS of even .800 (which isn’t exactly a top mark from a power position) over the last decade was Andre Ethier, who just barely topped the minimum at .803 while playing there for much of the first three years of his career.

With Manny finally gone after 2010, left field was an obvious problem spot all winter, one that never quite got filled. Jay Gibbons and Tony Gwynn arrived early, later joined by Marcus Thames to form the immortal “JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr.” trio that was absolutely never going to work – and, you know, didn’t – but much of the winter was marked by the Dodgers trying and failing to bring in others. Bill Hall was considered, but he went to Houston to play second base. (Fortunately for the Dodgers, as it turned out). Matt Diaz was sought, though he went to Pittsburgh. Brothers Scott Hairston and Jerry Hairston both appeared in rumors; neither arrived. With no upgrades available, the club eventually resigned themselves to wishing for the best from the Gwybbons Jr. trio, as we entertained ourselves by wondering if the team would break the record for most left fielders in a season while waiting for the day Trayvon Robinson would come save us. This, of course, would not do, as Dodger left fielders finished 23rd in MLB in OPS at .680, and Robinson, as you might have heard, was dealt to Seattle.

But remember, it could have been worse: in November, Ned Colletti actually picked up the team half of Podsednik’s mutual option, an offer that Podsednik foolishly (and disastrously) turned down in hopes of a bigger payday elsewhere. Podsednik ended up being injured for much of the year in AAA for Toronto and Philadelphia, and didn’t play a single MLB game. He was nearly the starting left fielder for the Dodgers. Good lord. Let’s get on with this hot mess.

(If you’re looking for Juan Rivera, he’ll appear in right field, even though he started more games as a left fielder, just to keep the left field pit of hell a little more manageable.)

Tony Gwynn (C)
.256/.308/.353 .660 2hr 22sb 1.1 WAR

Tony Gwynn might just be the blandest player to think about on the Dodgers. When Junior signed, we expected great fielding, some contribution on the basepaths, and just about nothing at the plate. And… well, that’s exactly what happened. Feel the excitement!

I wasn’t really sold on his signing – I wasn’t sure he was even better than Xavier Paul, though mostly I really had wanted a righty outfield bat – but after a solid spring, we were doing our best to talk ourselves into him:

It says a lot about the construction of this team that I just wrote about 900 words on why Tony Gwynn may be the best choice they’ve got, but it just might be true. The way things are currently configured, nothing could work out better for this team than for Gwynn to keep up his hot spring and grab the job.

He didn’t quite take over in the early going, sharing time with Marcus Thames and others, and hit a Gwynn-esque .264/.291/.377 through April, though he did pitch in with a game-saving catch. Then April turned into May, and… oh, that’s gonna leave a mark.

Split G GS PA H RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
May 26 4 32 2 1 1 2 7 .067 .125 .100 .225

Gwynn’s May was so bad that by the end of of the month, when we were wondering who might get DFA’d to make room for a returning Thames, the only reason it seemed worthwhile to keep Gwynn around was the lack of another option to help Matt Kemp out in center field. Gwynn survived the purge, and managed to pick up two hits in his first game of June despite not entering the game until the 8th inning. That was the start of a resurgence, because over June and July Gwynn picked up 40 hits, for a combined line of .305/.377/.389. That still shows absolutely no power whatsoever, but it doesn’t matter, because a player who can get on base at that rate along with good baserunning and excellent defense is quite valuable.

Of course, Gwynn followed up his nice stretch with a .245/.278/.367 run over August and September, which sounds about right from him. Overall, his .308 OBP is basically the same as his .304 mark with the Padres in 2010, but very troubling is the fact that his walk rate dropped from 10.6% and 12.1% the previous two years to just 6.8% with the Dodgers.

So what next? His plate performance is lousy, though his defense is rated excellent by most metrics and that absolutely passes the sniff test. Considering his utility on the bases, he’s a useful enough piece, and he wants to return. If I was running the team, I’d probably look to upgrade, but assuming he doesn’t get much more than ~$1m or so if he makes it to arbitration, that seems fair enough.

Jerry Sands (B-)
.253/.338/.389 .727 4hr 0.0 WAR

When camp started, we were all intrigued by the 2010 performance of Jerry Sands in the minors, and we hoped that if all went well, we might be lucky enough to see him in the bigs by September. By March 7, Sands was so impressive that I was creating polls to see how long people thought the Dodgers could really keep him down, especially considering the lack of production at his two primary positions, first base and left field. Even then, the majority of people figured “July or later”, so it was no surprise when he was sent back to minor league camp on St. Patrick’s Day.

Sands started off his AAA season by homering in each of his first four games, and as the Dodger offense struggled with injury and ineffectiveness, they shocked us all by recalled him on April 17, far sooner than anyone expected. The initial returns were promising, with fans giving standing ovations for his debut, and he repaid them with doubles in each of his first two games and in five of his first nine, as the Dodgers – to their credit – committed to the experiment, playing him nearly every day.

But despite the doubles, the excitement, and the promised plate discipline, something was missing. Sands wasn’t quite the savior we’d been looking for. There were some nice moments, of course, including his first homer on May 21 and a grand slam on May 24 in Rubby De La Rosa‘s debut, but they were few and far between. By the end of May, I was open to the idea that it should be Sands who went back down when Marcus Thames returned. Sands survived, with Jay Gibbons surprisingly getting the axe on the day that Dee Gordon arrived, but just over a week later it was Sands’ turn:

Numbers aren’t everything, of course. When Sands arrived, we heard a great deal about his maturity, ability to make adjustments, and command of the strike zone. From this vantage point, all of what we’ve heard has been true and then some. Before his recent slump, he’d shown an increased ability to pull the ball, rather than always going the other way, and even when the power wasn’t there he was seeing a lot of pitches and getting on base.

By sending him back down now, you hope that he goes down knowing he can play on this level, with a few adjustments. This is where the maturity comes into play; some rookies can’t handle a demotion well, but Sands sounds like the type who can. Ideally, he goes back down to ABQ, mashes Triple-A pitching for a while to get his confidence back up (also important, as you don’t want a string of oh-fers in the bigs to get him down), and then we’ll see back up later in the summer. I’d say “when rosters expand on Sept. 1″, but I think we all know that injuries will necessitate a recall sooner.

Sands is a big part of this team’s future, and it’s in his best interest to go back down and get his confidence back up. He’s not helping the team right now, and he’s not helping himself. He’ll be back, and he’ll be better for the experience.

That’s exactly what happened, because much like Gordon, the Sands we saw the second time around was far different from our initial look. When Sands was sent down, he was hitting .200/.294/.328 in 144 plate appearances; after his return on September 8 (with the arrival of Rivera and the resurgence of James Loney, he stayed down longer than I would have guessed), he hit .342/.415/.493, playing mostly right field with Andre Ethier injured, including a 14-game hitting streak and hits in 16 of 18 games. He ended up finishing fifth on the club in doubles, despite having just 227 plate appearances; the hot streak all but guaranteed himself a spot on next year’s club, though it remains to be seen what position he’ll play.

If there is one big red flag about Sands, it’s that his home/road splits with the Isotopes were beyond atrocious. Courtesy of Andrew Grant’s Minor League Central, we can see that he hit .347/.406/.709 with 18 homers at home, and just .186/.258/.401 with 9 homers on the road. I’m always driving the “ABQ stats mean little without checking the splits” train, so I can’t in good conscience tell you to completely ignore that here. However, when we talk about ABQ-inflated stats, we’re usually talking about a player who is either a semi-prospect with little to point to before reaching ABQ (think Justin Sellers), or an older Quad-A fringe type who could never stick in the bigs but who was lucky enough to land in the perfect place to pad his stats (like Trent Oeltjen recently, or Dee Brown or Hector Luna in previous years.) As a young player who comes with quality scouting reports, a solid track record in the minors before landing in New Mexico, and an excellent finish to his season in the bigs, Sands has a lot more going for him than the other names mentioned, so his splits aren’t cause to write him off – just something to note.

Marcus Thames (F)
.197/.243/.333 .576 2hr -0.7 WAR

Despite the fact that it didn’t even come close to working out, giving Marcus Thames a shot as a LF/1B bench bat wasn’t the worst idea in the world at the time:

So if you’ve come here looking to see if I hate the idea of Thames, then no, I don’t. I hate that this is the best the Dodgers are going to be able to do; I hate that with every passing day the idea that much is riding on Tony Gwynn hitting enough to win the CF job. I think there’s good arguments to be made for preferring Hairston or Milledge, yet I can’t complain too much about getting a guy who has an .820 OPS and 94 homers over the last five years (assuming the money is small).

Really, this is going to be determined by Thames’ usage. If he’s a lefty-killing specialist who is 80% off the bench and 20% in left field, that’s useful enough. If he’s penciled in to a strict platoon role where he gets a goodly amount of playing time in the field, that’s an enormous problem. Thames is one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, and as tenuous as the idea of a Jay Gibbons / Matt Kemp / Andre Ethier outfield might be, putting Thames in LF alongside Kemp and Ethier would be atrocious, to the point that it might be the worst fielding trio in the game. This is going to be another test for Don Mattingly, and we’ll have to see how he handles that.

We never found out. Thames was as poor as advertised in the field, but he was also surprisingly bad at the plate, albeit in just 70 plate appearances. I think some of that might be chalked up to his usage, because after starting five of his first eight games in left field, he was essentially reduced to pinch-hitting until he was injured in early May. For a player used to getting three and four at-bats per game as a designated hitter in the American League, the transition to pinch-hitting was a difficult one.

Thames landed on the disabled list on May 3 after injuring his left thigh and missed slightly more than a month. When he returned, Mattingly attempted to get him back in the mix by giving him eight starts in left field in June, but it didn’t work; Thames failed to hit and missed several more games with a calf strain. He pinch-hit twice in July and was finally DFA’d in favor of Juan Rivera over the All-Star break, eventually returning to the Yankees on a minor-league deal.

Like so many other Dodgers in 2011, Thames couldn’t stay healthy and didn’t do much to justify his existence when he was. Not exactly a memorable tenure from a short-term Dodger.

Jay Gibbons (D-)
.255/.323/.345 .668 1hr -0.5 WAR

Gibbons, as you probably remember, was a nice story at the end of 2010. As much as that made for some fun puff piece stories in the press, I was a bit concerned about what to really expect from him going into 2011:

You all know his story by now, as he went from “reasonably successful Oriole” in the early and middle part of the decade, to “blackballed Mitchell Report name who was largely out of baseball” in 2008-09, to “heartwarming success story for his hometown team” in 2010. Though he was certainly a nice boost for the team last year, I’ve always felt that his performance got a little more hype than it probably deserved. Coming on the heels of the Garret Anderson debacle, the bar was set pretty low, and Gibbons made a great first impression – he homered in his first start and put up a 1.102 OPS over his first 47 PA back in the bigs. That’s all well and good, except beyond his own defensive issues, 47 PA is hardly a large sample size, he ended the season in a 6-32 slide, and we’ve learned several times that people put far too much stock into first impressions. If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve been saying the exact same thing about Rod Barajas for months.

This isn’t to bash Gibbons, who made for a nice story in the dog days of a lost season. It’s just to point out that despite all the accolades, he’s still a 34-year-old who put up a .313 OBP in 80 PA, and can’t possibly be expected to sustain a .507 SLG. While all the stories read that he hadn’t played in MLB since 2007, it actually goes beyond that; due to injuries, he didn’t even get into 100 games in either 2006 or 2007.

I think I nailed the trepidation there pretty well, and Gibbons did little to change that in 62 plate appearances in May and early June. That said, while i don’t think he was ever likely to produce, you do have to feel bad for him in how it went down. Gibbons returned early from winter ball complaining of vision problems, and started the season on the disabled list with the same issue. When he returned in May, he made it to early June before getting a somewhat surprising DFA which landed him back in Albuquerque, where he underwent another eye surgery in hopes of restoring his vision.

On the season for the Isotopes, he hit an Albuquerque-fueled .305/.407/.463, which is nice, and if we’ve learned anything about Gibbons it’s that you can’t count him out. But he’ll be 35 next spring, didn’t get a September call-up, is a poor defender, and in 2012 it’ll have been nearly six years since he was last an effective big leaguer for more than a few weeks. If he wants a job in AAA I’m sure he can have one somewhere, but I wouldn’t expect to see him back with the Dodgers again, especially since he elected to become a free agent in early October.

Xaver Paul (inc.)
.273/.273/.273 .545 0hr -0.1 WAR

I don’t use this photo in Paul’s card to make fun of him, but mostly because it was one of the few photos of him playing for the Dodgers this year I could actually find.

That’ll happen when you get just 11 plate appearances before being shipped off to the place where all mediocre Dodgers go to die: Pittsburgh. (Here’s looking at you, Delwyn Young & Andy LaRoche.)

Paul had long been one of my favorites, but he never really seemed to get the chance he deserved based on his minor-league track record and strong throwing arm. It’s not that he ever looked like a future star or even more than a fourth outfielder – I can’t even say he did much in Pittsburgh in his first crack at semi-regular playing time – but the simple fact that he kept getting swept aside for over-the-hill veterans like Garret Anderson really burned me.

So long, Xavier. We’ll always have you as the answer to the trivia question, “who was DFA’d to get Jerry Sands on the roster?”

Jamie Hoffmann (inc.)
.000/.000/.000 .000 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hoffmann had four plate appearances over two April games, so obviously there’s not a lot of his MLB season to analyze. The greater question here is, who did he piss off? Hoffmann hit .297/.356/.497 in AAA this year, while backing up his reputation as an excellent defensive outfielder by breaking a 53-year-old PCL record for consecutive errorless games. While the standard ABQ disclaimers apply (dig that 200+ split in home/road OPS), you don’t hit 22 homers completely by accident, yet on a team that carried both Eugenio Velez and Trent Oeltjen for months, Hoffman didn’t warrant even a token September recall. That can’t bode well for his future with the team, though I still don’t see why he couldn’t be a useful backup.

******

Next! It’s center field! You may know the guy who plays there! I hear he’s sorta good!

2011 Midseason Grades: Offense


The All-Star break is here, and that means it’s everyone’s favorite time of the year: midseason grades. It’s been a tough year for the Dodgers on and off the field, though we do of course have the pleasure of a few exceptionally bright spots. As always, the grades are in relation to what was reasonably expected of the player at the beginning of the season, not in comparison to other players in the bigs. Otherwise, Jose Bautista would get an A, and no one else would get above a Q. Fewer than 50 plate appearances or 10 innings pitched gets you an incomplete.

All stats are via baseball-reference. Today we’ll do hitters, and before the break is over we’ll get to pitchers, management, and one new kind of review. As always, these letter grades are subjective opinions and meant more for fun than anything. Except for Juan Uribe’s. There’s nothing fun about Juan Uribe.

Catchers

Rod Barajas D+ (.220/.262/.385 8hr 0.2 WAR)
And right off the bat, our rating system is being tested. Do I give Barajas an F, because he’s not any good, or a C, because we never expected him to be any good? I’ll go with a D+, because even though he’s underperforming his own mediocre career stats, he was still second on the team in homers until the final game before the break. I suppose that says a lot more about the Dodgers than it does about him, though. Due to the low bar for offense from catching in the bigs, he’s actually slightly above replacement, though it’s hard to look at the 46/8 K/BB without getting a little ill. He’s due to be activated from the disabled list on Friday, allowing us to start up the always fun “Navarro or Ellis?” game again. (It’ll be Navarro sticking, of course.)

Dioner Navarro F (.183/.234/.287 2hr -0.1 WAR)
You don’t need me to go back and really find all of the articles I wrote over the winter asking why he was worth a $1m major-league contract and why he was guaranteed a spot over the likely superior A.J. Ellis, right? Navarro came in with the lowest of expectations, yet after missing the first month with an oblique injury, has somehow still managed to underperform. Despite that, he still manages to come up with the game on the line in the ninth inning nearly every single night. The world is a twisted place.

Fun fact: Navarro is the only player in history with the name “Dioner”. Fun fact #2: he’s still looking for his first hit against a lefty in fourteen tries this season.

A. J. Ellis (C) (.222/.364/.222 0hr -0.1 WAR)
I realize I’ve heaped far more praise on a 30-year-old minor league lifer with absolutely no power than he really deserves, but the Dodger catching situation is dire, and his long minor-league record and short major league stints show an above-average ability to get on base, which is exactly what this lineup is missing. Defensively, I won’t insult your intelligence by citing CERA, but it’s hard to think it’s a coincidence that Chad Billingsley’s mid-season slump turned around precisely when Ellis started being his regular catcher. Too bad he’s almost certainly headed back for Barajas on Friday.

Hector Gimenez (inc.) (.143/.143/.143 0hr -0.1 WAR)
I would like to say something witty or insightful about Hector Gimenez, but that infers that I have absolutely any recollection of him as a Dodger whatsoever. Pass.

Infielders

James Loney (C-) (.268/.311/.342 4hr -0.5 WAR)
I feel weird giving Loney a C-, because his line and a grade in that range suggest that he was his normal mediocre self all season. Far from it; by early May, he was the most hated man in LA since OJ and we were all writing articles about how bad his season was going to be on a historical level. Since then, he’s basically been the best non-Kemp hitter on the team. That doesn’t mean he’s good – hooray, a .751 OPS from a 1B since April 26! – and again, that says a lot about the rest of the players on this team, but nothing tells you more about the plight of the 2011 Dodgers than the fact that their punchless overpaid first baseman is no longer even close to being the biggest issue here.

Jamey Carroll (A+) (.297/.368/.366 0hr 1.6 WAR)
Last season, Carroll had a .718 OPS and was largely hailed as the team MVP for stepping in to cover for Rafael Furcal at shortstop for nearly the entire season. For a 36-year-old career backup who had played in more than 113 just once, it was quite the impressive feat. More impressive? The fact that he’s exceeding that this year, currently with a .734 OPS. In a lower run scoring environment, that’s good for a 111 OPS+. Once again, the team has been crushed by injuries. Once again, Jamey Carroll has risen to the occasion and more. I’m not sure what the future holds for Carroll in Los Angeles – this is the last year of his contract, and unsurprisingly teams are showing trade interest – but he has consistently outperformed expectations. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Fun Carroll fact: since you know I have no use for RBI, regard this as more of a fun statistical quirk than any sort of value judgement, but he has somehow managed to step to the plate 311 times and drive in just 8 runners. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t hit homers and you’re either batting leadoff (behind the pitcher and the horrible bottom of the lineup) or 8th (behind low-OBP guys like Uribe, Barajas, and Loney).

Aaron Miles
(A) (.318/.337/.381 1hr 1.1 WAR)
Credit where credit is due: Aaron Miles has been a really, really nice part of this team. I hardly need to remind you about all the jokes we made at his expense when he was signed and in the spring, but after being forced into far more playing time than anyone expected, he’s responded by becoming arguably the 4th-best hitter on the team. (Like Barajas and his homers, that says a lot more about the other hitters on the club, but still). We expected absolutely nothing from him – less than nothing, perhaps – and not only has he stepped up where needed, he led the NL in batting average in June.

It’s not all that simple, of course. .300 average or not, he’s not walking and he provides zero power, so his OPS is just barely over .700, and his .344 BABIP, 35 points over his career average, seems unlikely to hold. So let’s not get too caught up in praise for Miles to pretend he’s actually, you know, good. But for a non-roster guy who was something like the 8th infielder entering the season? Well done, Aaron. Well done.

Hey, you think we can sucker some team into trading for him at the deadline?

Ivan DeJesus, Jr. (inc.) (.188/.235/.188 0hr -0.5 WAR)
So far, DeJesus looks to be this year’s winner of the “Blake DeWitt Memorial LA-to-ABQ Frequent Flyer” award, because he saw three different stints with the big club, including the pleasure of flying all the way to Cincinnati for the pleasure of one pinch-hitting appearance in June. That being the case, you can’t really judge his big-league performance too much, though he also didn’t do a lot to change my perception of him as a bench player at best. Back in ABQ, he’s hitting .304, which is nice, though a .758 OPS in that environment isn’t encouraging.

Fun fact: for a guy whose name isn’t exactly “John Smith“, Ivan DeJesus is neither the best Ivan or the best DeJesus to play in the bigs this year.

Juan Uribe (oh holy good lord, F, and I don’t just mean the letter grade) (.207/.273/.306 4hr 0.4 WAR)
Uribe has been so bad that there’s an entire Tumblr dedicated to how sad he looks and makes us feel. He’s so bad that when an obviously fantastical rumor popped up for about five seconds about how the Dodgers might be looking to send him back to San Francisco, we jumped on it even though we knew it was BS, just for the small amount of hope it brought. He’s been so bad that he had a lousy April (.247/.303/.420) and hasn’t come close to even matching that since. He’s been so bad that of all the players in the bigs with at least 200 plate appearances, only three have a lower TAv than him. He’s been so bad that he has just one homer since April turned into May, and even that came off Brad Penny, so I feel like he was just trolling us. But hey, not like we have to stare at him for 2.5 more years or anything.

The funny part is, he’s actually been so good in the field that it pushes him above replacement level. That 0.4 breaks down into -0.4 oWAR and 0.8 dWAR. It doesn’t make him a good player, and it doesn’t justify the contract, but it’s something. I suppose that something should probably be enough to get him more than an F, but… no.

Rafael Furcal F (.185/.227/.228 1hr -0.5 WAR)
How do you even judge Furcal at this point? It can’t be on health, because he’s managed to end up on the disabled list twice more this year (though at least it wasn’t his back this time). It’s hard to do so on production, since he’s constantly either just about to go on the disabled list or just coming back from it. I suppose the fact that he’s not in a full body cast is something, but that line above… yeesh. Anyone who’s still dreaming of trading him to someone at the deadline probably needs to wake up because unfortunately, Furcal’s best days are behind him. As, probably, are his days of being able to obtain health insurance when he’s no longer a ballplayer.

Dee Gordon C+ (.232/.250/.280 0hr 0.0 WAR)
We all knew Gordon was recalled far too soon, and it showed: he was overmatched at the plate and made some critical errors in the field. He also brought the kind of excitement that we haven’t seen in years, if ever. If you have any doubt about that, just head on over to this GIF-heavy recap of the amazing feats he pulled off in just a single game. A lot of players end up with 0.0 WAR because they’ve been boring or barely playable, and haven’t contributed anything either positive or negative. That’s not the case with Gordon; he did plenty of things that hurt the team, but he made up for them with a ton of positives. That’s how it all evens out, and for a raw 23-year-old, yeah, I’ll take that.

Juan Castro A (.286/.333/.286 0hr 0.0 WAR)
Castro gave us the greatest gift of all, retiring this week before subjecting us to a fifth stint as a Dodger. That alone gets the man an A.

Casey Blake D- (.243/.346/.386 4hr 0.3 WAR)
Things the 37-year-old Blake has been on the disabled list for this season: sore oblique, infected elbow, pinched nerve in neck, Legionnaire’s disease, athlete’s thumb, bone-itis, ringworm infestation, osteoporosis. Also, he narrowly avoided a brush with the law for continually yelling at those damned kids to get off his lawn.

Casey Blake is old.

Russ Mitchell (inc.) (.115/.258/.269 1hr 0.1 WAR)
Mitchell has 74 MLB plate appearances in his short career. He has nine hits, and though one was a game-tying homer in the 9th inning against the White Sox earlier this year, that’s good for an OPS+ of 29. That’s an unfairly small sample size, of course, but he’s also hitting .244 in ABQ right now. Russ Mitchell: nope.

Outfielders

Jerry Sands (C-) (.200/.294/.328 2hr -0.4 WAR)
Like Gordon, Sands was probably promoted too soon, and like Gordon, he didn’t really provide results, but did provide hope for the future. All of the stories we heard about his maturity and plate approach seemed to be true, yet so far it hasn’t translated into production. Sands is crushing the ball once again in ABQ, and with the Dodger offense still stagnant, we’ll see him back up in blue before very long.

Tony Gwynn (B-) (.256/.316/.326 0hr 0.6 WAR)
It’s been something of an interesting season for Gwynn. He was his normal Gwynn-like self in April (i.e. bad), hitting .264/.291/.377 before going completely off the rails in May: he managed just two hits all month and received only four starts, as Sands took over the bulk of the left field work. At that point, with his batting average below .200 and with nothing to his name other than two game-saving catches, we started wondering how long he’d stick on the roster, especially when he didn’t get into any of the first three games in June. On June 4, he entered in the 8th inning and got two hits in a game that went 11 innings. He got a hit the next game, and the next, and before you knew it he’d hit in 7 of the first 8 games of the month. It would get better – since June 26, which was two weeks ago yesterday, he’s had five multihit games, including three with three and one with four. Now that Sands and Gordon are both in the minors, he’s effectively taken over as both the starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. Because he owns the only plus glove in what is a subpar defensive outfield, this was the outcome we’d always wanted. Now let’s see if he can really keep it up.

Marcus Thames
F (.197/.243/.333 2hr -0.6 WAR)
Injured? Yep, twice, even if only one led to a DL stint. Poor on defense? You better believe it. Unproductive on offense? Well, the line above doesn’t lie, right? I sure hope he’s renting, not buying.

Jay Gibbons
F (.255/.323/.345 1hr -0.5 WAR)
Well, he got DFA’d and claimed by no one, placing him back in AAA, so it couldn’t have been that good of a first half, right? You want to feel bad because his vision problems really derailed last season’s feel-good story right from the start… but then you remember he wasn’t really ever that good in the first place. The best part of that -0.5 WAR is that his oWAR is actually 0.1… meaning he’s really, really bad in the field.

JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr. D-
Remember when the left field situation was going to be a nice trio between Gwynn, Thames, and Gibbons? Sheesh. Until Gwynn’s hot spurt over the last few weeks, they combined to offer absolutely nothing. Less than nothing, if you just went by WAR. At various points this season, we’ve made arguments for DFA’ing all three of them. Count this under “plans that were unlikely to work and then did, in fact, not work.”

Trent Oeltjen (inc.) (.265/.386/.441  1hr 0.6 WAR)
Hey, remember when Oeltjen went 4-4 with a homer in that 15-0 drubbing of Minnesota? That was rad, right? Unfortunately for him, he had 3 hits in 20 PA before that game, and just 2 hits in 20 PA since. 

Xavier Paul (inc.) (.273/.273/.273 0hr -0.1 WAR)
Paul’s ultimate contribution to the 2011 Dodgers is managing to grab a left field start before his departure, thus helping us push towards our ultimate goal of setting a record for most left fielders in a season. He’s got an 84 OPS+ for Pittsburgh since being picked up, though he’s improved his OPS in each full month there.

Jamie Hoffmann (inc.) (.000/.000/.000 0hr -0.2 WAR)
The man got four plate appearances. Let’s not infer too much from that. I still think he could be a pretty useful fourth outfielder in the bigs, as he’s a well-regarded defender having another high-OBP season in the minors, this time with a little pop.

Eugenio Velez (inc.) (.000/.000/.000 0hr -0.2 WAR)

Baron Ironglove von Pickoff. Still can’t believe he’s a Dodger. Or a major leaguer. Or a human being.

Matt Kemp (A+++) (.313/.398/.584 22hr 27sb 5.7 WAR)
I know you come here for informed baseball analysis and all (uh, I hope), and I could write 10,000 words on why Kemp is awesome. I will at some point, and 9,990 of those words will probably be about how I always said that he’d have a monstrous season this year, even as half the city was tearing him apart last year. There will be a time for that sort of insight, but for now, let’s leave it at this: 91 games into the season, Kemp has 5.7 WAR. That puts him on pace for about 9.9 WAR over the full season… a mark bettered by just two Dodgers in history. Yeah. His season is that good. Remember when everyone wanted to trade him, secure in the knowledge that he had neither the baseball IQ or work ethic to become a star? Yeah, me neither.

Matt Kemp is a shiny golden god.

Andre Ethier (B+) (.311/.383/.463 9hr 1.9 WAR)
Ethier, without question, represented one of the more difficult grades to give out. 30 game hitting streak? Yes, please. .383 OBP? Delicious. While his OPS is nearly 40 points off his 2008 career high, the lower offensive environment this year means that it’s good for a career-best 141 OPS+, so hooray for that. No, he’s not hitting lefties (.242/.282/.368), but he never hits lefties, so that’s not much of a surprise. All in all, it’s been a very solid year from one of the two main offensive threats this club has.

Yet… it feels like something is missing. Prior to his two-homer day yesterday, he’d hit just seven dingers, and his SLG is down for the third year in a row. It’s certainly not enough of a problem to criticize him, hence the good grade, and perhaps yesterday’s outburst was the start of something new. I just can’t help shaking the feeling that is very unpopular among the casual fans who love him so much: Ethier is a very good player, but not a superstar. We’ll need to keep that in mind when his contract is up. I don’t want to get too down on him, though: right now, he’s the second best player on this team, and that in itself is quite valuable.

******

Don’t forget: Matt Kemp is in the Home Run Derby tonight and will be live tweeting @TheRealMattKemp throughout.

Dodgers Wait Until Last Second to Avoid Sweep

For most of the afternoon, today’s matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Jered Weaver more than lived up to the hype, matching strikeouts, zeroes, and highlights. I don’t want to gloss over that, because it’s important, but hold that thought for the moment, and let’s not pretend you’re here to talk about anything but the ninth inning.

After Kershaw had allowed a Vernon Wells dinger in the top of the ninth, putting the Angels up 2-1, bloggers like myself were no doubt working furiously on the usual “great starting pitching wasted by atrocious offense” spiel. It’s the kind of thing we’ve written so often this season that we can basically churn them out in our sleep. The Dodgers would roll over and die, particularly with Dioner Navarro and Juan Uribe, starting the bottom of the ninth. They’d be swept by the Angels, a lost season would get even sadder, and we’d all move on with our lives.

Not today, though, in large part thanks to the wildness of Angels rookie closer Jordan Walden and some favorable umpiring in the ninth. Walden led off the frame by walking Uribe, and if giving the leadoff hitter a free pass isn’t already an unforgivable sin, walking the hapless Uribe is. Dee Gordon then ran for Uribe, and as I said at the time on Twitter, “never has there been a more appropriate lineup move than running Dee Gordon for Juan Uribe down 1 in the bottom of the 9th.”

Gordon took off for second, as everyone in the stadium knew he would, and he slid in safely. Or did he? There’s no doubt that he beat the Jeff Mathis throw, but as he slid head-first over the bag, he appeared to begin to get up, so that briefly he was on his hands and knees without his midsection touching the bag, and with the tag still applied on his back. You tell me:

Still, the call was safe, and with all of the bad karma this team has had this year, I’ll happily take it. Walden still couldn’t get it together and walked Navarro, nearly hitting him with the final pitch. Jamey Carroll stepped up and sacrificed Navarro and Gordon to second and third, and let’s talk about that for a second. Yes, it worked, and yes, Sam Miller of the Orange County Register did point out to me that statistically, it was the right thing to do. It just doesn’t sit right with me, though. You’ve got Gordon, perhaps the fastest man in the sport on at second base, able to score on nearly any hit to the outfield. You’ve got Carroll, one of the few Dodgers who have shown any skill with the bat this year, at the plate. To sacrifice him and give up one of your three precious outs in exchange for a non-guaranteed chance to move Gordon up 90 feet and leave the game in the hands of Aaron Miles and Tony Gwynn… well, I know it worked, I just didn’t like it at the time.

Anyway, that put men on at second and third for Miles. He hit a fly ball to a relatively shallow center field, where Peter Bourjos collected it and threw a laser to home. Gordon and the ball arrived at the same time, and Mathis did a wonderful job of blocking Gordon from the plate. Honestly, I’ve watched this replay a dozen times and I’m still not entirely sure. Gordon, coming in feet first, clearly didn’t get through Mathis, and his first attempt at swiping with his left hand came up short. What’s less clear is whether Mathis actually got the tag down; it looks to me like he probably did tag Gordon’s backside before Dee’s second attempt with the left hand made it, but it’s hard to say for sure. Again, you tell me:

For the second time in the inning, Gordon got the favorable call, and the game was tied.

(As an aside, and this has nothing to do with the terrible injury suffered by Buster Posey, I hate the rule that allows the catcher to block the plate like this. It’s one thing to not get out of the way of a runner because you’re trying to receive the ball, and it’s another thing entirely to prevent the runner entirely from accessing the plate. As you can see, Gordon was brought to nearly a complete stop by Mathis here. That sort of thing isn’t allowed at other bases, and it shouldn’t be allowed at the plate – it’s just unfair to the runner.)

But a tie isn’t enough, and so Gwynn walked to the plate with two down. (I’ll spare you my usual “Kershaw was in the books for a loss, then to a no-decision, then got the win, despite doing absolutely nothing in the bottom of the ninth to impact any of that” business for once.) Eight pitches into the at-bat, he flicked a pitch to right field, easily scoring Trent Oeltjen, who had run for Navarro.

Tony Gwynn, hero. Baseball’s a funny game sometimes.

******

As I said before, we’d be remiss to not acknowledge the pitching performance we saw from Kershaw and Weaver. The Dodgers put men on the corners with no outs in the fifth? No problem; Weaver induced a grounder from Kershaw and flyouts from Tony Gwynn & Casey Blake. Jeff Mathis leads off the sixth with a double, followed by Weaver attempting to sacrifice him to third? Not a concern; Kershaw leaped off the mound to snag the popped bunt before turning to nail Mathis for the double play at second, in a play that must be seen to be believed (I think I’ve reached my animated GIF quota for one day, okay?)

In the seventh, each side drew blood against the other ace, though both runs could be charitably described as “lucky”. Kershaw allowing a double to Erick Aybar looks bad in the box score, but it was a bloop that landed just in between left fielder Gwynn & shortstop Jamey Carroll which Aybar aggressively turned into two bases. He was then driven in on a Howie Kendrick single to center which fell just out of the reach of a diving Matt Kemp. As a legion of Dodger fans resigned themselves to a 1-0 loss, the Angels gave the run right back in the bottom of the frame. Kershaw led off with a single, and we’re going to have to stop jokingly saying that he’s better than any pinch-hitter who might replace him, because it’s basically true. Gwynn, hitting leadoff for reasons I can’t possibly comprehend, then crushed a ball to right field, scoring Kershaw. We’ll gloss over the fact that Vernon Wells really should have come down with the ball on the warning track and enjoy the rare good fortune that comes our way when it does. Of course, Wells earned that run right back with his go-ahead homer.

This is the 12th time in Kershaw’s career he’s put up double-digit strikeout numbers, though it’s the first time he’s done it in back-to-back starts, since he also struck out 11 Tigers last week. It also put him up to 128 K’s on the season, putting him back ahead of Justin Verlander for the most in baseball. That’s impressive, but that’s not what I liked the best about today; it was the fact that he did it without a single walk. Remember when we said that the only thing holding him back from megaultrastardom was harnessing the walks? Yeah, about that: his K/BB rate from 2008-11: 1.92, 2.03, 2.62, 3.66.

Clayton Kershaw, shiny golden god.

Tony Gwynn Saves the Day

I missed most of last night’s game because I was at a wedding, but from what I’ve seen it was a crazy affair. (The game, not the wedding.)

Still, when a game ends like this, and especially when it ends on a great play by someone who has received little praise around here because he’s contributed next to nothing all season, it’s something I can’t let go by. After Scott Elbert and especially Matt Guerrier did their best to choke away a six-run lead in the 8th, and Javy Guerra allowed five baserunners in the 9th, Charlie Blackmon came up as the tying run with the bases loaded and two outs. He sliced a ball to left. It looked for all the world that it would land and possibly skip to the wall, scoring at least two.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the second time this season, Tony Gwynn. (click to animate.)