Maybe Pedro Baez Has a Future Now, & Other Minor League Notes

Maybe Pedro Baez‘ problem is that no one told him where on the field the batter is actually supposed to stand.

As we wait for the playoffs to run their course so we can focus on 2013, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s still Dodger baseball being played right now. Well, sort of. News & notes from around the minors…

1) The Arizona Fall League starts today. The AFL, for those who don’t know it, is a six-team league that runs between now and November 15, and it traditionally features some of the best collection of minor league talent. This year, the Dodgers will combine with prospects from Baltimore, Chicago Cubs Detroit, and Houston to form the Mesa Solar Sox, and they’ll contribute nine players. I think you’ll recognize a few of these guys: pitchers Eric Eadington, Onelki Garcia, Red Patterson, Chris Reed, & Andres Santiago; catcher Gorman Erickson; infielder Rafael Ynoa; and outfielders Joc Pederson & Yasiel Puig. Chris Jackson has more about each of the nine Dodger prospects here.

2) Pedro Baez following Kenley Jansen to the mound? Though I can’t say this is 100% confirmed yet, it appears that the organization is finally doing something I’ve been asking for since at least 2010, moving minor league third baseman Baez to the mound. (At least according to the instructional league roster Jackson passed along, which looks legitimate.) Baez, 25 in March, somehow made the Southern League All-Star team despite mediocre stats in his third crack at Double-A this year… and was rewarded for that with a demotion back down to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga to play with guys years younger:

Baez hit just .228/.287/.429 for the Quakes despite being old for an offense-friendly league, and has a career line of only .247/.308/.391 in more than 2,000 plate appearances across six seasons. So it looks like they’re finally giving up on him as a third baseman and taking a chance on the rocket arm that has won him multiple “Best throwing arm in the system” awards from Baseball America. More than about time, I say.

3) Pederson & Puig getting some notice. John Sickels over at Minor League Ball named his preliminary Top 50 Hitting Prospects for 2013 today, and two Dodgers made the list. Puig came in at #34, two spots ahead of fellow Cuban Jorge Soler, and Pederson was #39. Unsurprisingly, Texas shortstop Jurickson Profar topped the list; no Giants were represented. Obviously, this is one man’s opinion, and the usual caveats do apply. Still, it’s nice to see the Dodgers with some minor league hitting potential after several years of being a pitching-heavy system.

4) So long, Trent? Finally, Trent Oeltjen, who played in 75 games for the Dodgers in 2010-11 and 112 more for Albuquerque in 2012, has declared free agency, according to MiLB.com. He’s now free to sign with any club.

Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Right Field

Andre Ethier (C-)
.292/.368/.421 .789 11hr 1.3 WAR

Andre Ethier started out his season with some completely unnecessary public comments, complaining about his contract status the day before the season started and wondering if he might actually get non-tendered. (Spoiler alert: no.)  He ended his season with another round of public controversy, claiming that the Dodgers were forcing him to play on an injured knee before quickly backpedaling, and then undergoing knee surgery anyway. In between making a fool of himself in the papers, he came within one game of setting a franchise record with a 30-game hitting streak, yet ultimately ended up with a less-than-satisfying season as his power deserted him.

Really, most of the season was a disappointment after his outstanding April, wasn’t it? I say that in something of a positive way; other than his lousy August and September, this is a generally good season from an average outfielder. But we expect so much more from Ethier that just being “generally good” isn’t really good enough.

Split PA H 2B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
April/March 121 41 10 3 13 21 .380 .446 .556 1.002 .452
May 102 23 2 2 14 17 .261 .363 .352 .715 .304
June 110 30 8 2 7 24 .300 .345 .440 .785 .368
July 100 23 5 3 9 20 .261 .340 .420 .760 .303
August 99 22 4 1 12 17 .253 .343 .333 .677 .304
Sept/Oct 19 3 1 0 3 4 .188 .316 .250 .566 .250

The hope here is that much of this can be explained by injury, and I’m not just talking about the knee problem that ended his season early. In early May, Ethier missed a game with soreness in his throwing elbow, an issue that appeared to be altering his throwing mechanics even a week later. Two weeks after that, he crashed into the right field wall in Chicago, suffering what was termed at the time “a right elbow contusion, lower right back contusion and sprained left big toe”, costing him much of the next week. But it didn’t completely ruin his game, because going through the archives I can see that even in to June and July I would be continuously pointing out things like “Kemp & Ethier went 6-9, everyone else went 3-32″, performance (along, likely, with the well-publicized hitting streak) that got him added to the All-Star team as a injury replacement for Shane Victorino

Even still, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his first half:

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.

Yet as the knee began to bother him more, his performance on the field suffered, hitting just .252/.339/.333 after the break, before squawking about it to T.J. Simers and finally going under the knife.  To be honest, this all makes me think he’s going to have a big year in 2012, since he’ll (presumably) be healthy after two years of troublesome-but-not-debilitating injuries and headed into a contract year, he’s likely to have a large chip on his shoulder. You know, larger, than the usual one. But can we please, please get him a righty handcuff? I’ve been beating this drum for years, and it never seems to happen; once again, Ethier’s numbers against righties in 2011 (.321/.410/.468) were far ahead of his stats against lefties (.220/.258/.305), just like they are every year. Ethier won’t like being benched against lefties, but to be honest, I don’t care: playing him against LHP is simply giving away outs.

Juan Rivera (A)
.274/.333/.406 .739 5hr 0.7 WAR

This, I admit, may not be the most flattering photo I’ve used in this series. But Rivera is crushing a dinger in this shot, and I wanted to use at least one guy wearing a Brooklyn throwback.

These days, there’s not a whole lot of moves that come as a complete and total surprise with no rumors preceding it, but the acquisition of Rivera from Toronto certainly falls under that category. At the time, expectations were small, since he wasn’t doing a ton with Toronto before being DFA’d; he was merely expected to be slightly better than Marcus Thames and be a righty partner for James Loney at first base:

First off, let’s not worry too much about the player to be named – Rivera was DFA’d himself on July 3 and would have cleared waivers in another day or so, so it’s not like the Jays had a whole lot of leverage there. On the field, this seems like a tiny upgrade; Rivera wasn’t doing a whole lot for Toronto at .243/.305/.360, but it’s still better than Thames for the Dodgers at .197/.243/.333 – when Thames was even healthy enough to play. Against LHP, Rivera was doing what Thames was supposed to do, hitting .327/.400/.509 in 65 PA. And while Thames is an atrocious fielder, Rivera has been a plus defender at times in the past, even playing 40 games in center field throughout his career (though he hasn’t started there since 2006). That’s probably no longer the case at 33, but at least there’s some positive history there. He’s also got some experience at first base, which is more valuable than you think, because with Casey Blake on the shelf, the Dodgers don’t have a viable righty option to pair with James Loney. Rivera should be expected to now play 1B against most lefties.

In the short term, this deal probably makes the team better than they were this morning. Not by much, perhaps, but that’s good enough.

Well, that was one of the bigger understatements of the year, because Rivera was outstanding after coming to the Dodgers, in large part helping to fuel the second-half turnaround. Well, let’s clarify that: a 105 OPS+ is nice but not stellar, yet his .274/.333/.406 line is outstanding compared to the garbage he was replacing, and coming at essentially zero cost he provided a good deal of value. So good on Ned Colletti for upgrading from Thames, and good on Rivera for showing he still has some life in him.

What’s next, though? I find that people forget that Toronto completely gave up on him halfway through the year, and it’s not like Toronto is run by people who can’t identify value; he also hit just .221/.297/.308 after August 25 and offered little value in the field. Yet the narrative reads that he’s an “RBI machine” and a “savior” of the season, so don’t be at all surprised if he’s back in 2012, even though the track record of return engagements from midseason veteran acquisitions is mixed at best in the Colletti era. For the right price, that could be fine; he’s still effective against lefties, with a large platoon split, and with Ethier and James Loney around being completely unable to hit southpaws there’s definitely a need in Los Angeles for that kind of role. He’ll just need to take quite a paycut from his 2011 salary of $5.25m (I wouldn’t go above $2m at most), accept a one-year deal, and not be looked at as an every day player.

Trent Oeltjen (inc.)
.197/.322/.324 .646 2hr 0.4 WAR

It dawns on me that for the second year in a row, Oeltjen gets a glamour shot rather than an action one. This is not simply because I’m enraptured by his Aussie charm, but because “sitting around rather than playing” is basically the best way to sum up Oeltjen’s 2011, where he was on the team continuously from June 9 through the end of the season but made just about no lasting impact.

Of course, that’s what happenens when you’re given just three starts over the final 69 games of the season, isn’t it? The difference was clear; in 12 starts (not the greatest sample size, I will admit), he hit .256/.380/.462, while in 49 games as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, he hit .125/.243/.156. That’s a problem he needs to sort out if he plans on having much of a career, since it’s certainly not like any team is going to just hand him a starting job, though it’s possible there’s a little more there than we’ve seen. Oeltjen still has options remaining and I imagine his 2012 will look much like his 2011, with time spent both at AAA and the bigs, filling out some team’s roster.

******

Next! Clayton Kershaw is a god! Jon Garland‘s durability only goes so far! And Nathan Eovaldi arrives ahead of schedule! It’s starting pitchers, part 1!

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.

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

Dodgers Provide Some Relief With Historic Beating of Twins

The Dodger players and staff claim that all of the off-field garbage hasn’t affected them or their play on the field. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps it’s not. Still, in light of all that’s happened today, it’s hard to not look at tonight’s 15-0 demolition of the Twins as more than your garden-variety beating.

Oh, sure, the numbers tonight were prolific, and you could go on for hours just reciting them. Trent Oeltjen, Matt Kemp, and Tony Gwynn – aka your starting outfield, with Andre Ethier at DH – all put up four-hit nights, with Oeltjen coming up a double short of the cycle. Other than Ethier, every starter had multiple hits. (Update: following the game, the official scored changed an error to a hit for Ethier, giving him two and the team 25.) Kemp’s 22nd homer puts him into the NL lead, one behind Mark Teixeria and Jose Bautista for tops in MLB. The 15 run margin of victory is the largest since beating Arizona 19-1 back in 2002, and Eric Stephen adds that this is just the third shutout with at least 15 runs scored since 1919. The 24 hits were the most since putting up 25 against the Angels in 2006, and are tied for the 6th most in club history. ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson points out that it’s just the second Dodger win in Minnesota ever, with the first being Sandy Koufax’ 2-0 Game 7 shutout to clinch the 1965 World Series. You can’t gloss over the pitching either, because after Chad Billingsley allowed just just four hits over six scoreless, Blake Hawksworth, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Scott Elbert combined to strike out seven of the nine they retired over three innings.

And then there’s this, courtesy of the official Dodger Twitter feed:

For the first time in LA Dodgers history, every player in the lineup has at least one hit, one run and one RBI.

All of that – all of it, plus any fun stat I neglected to mention – is great. It’s fun. It’s needed. It’s also a pretty nice way to take focus away from the issues of the criminal ownership, if even for just a night. We’ll have far more than we can handle tomorrow with the initial bankruptcy hearing, so for tonight, let’s enjoy the small victories where we can.

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Speaking of baseball news… Jonathan Broxton‘s rehab has been shut down and he’s headed for an MRI after reporting more soreness in his right elbow.