Dodgers Acquire Joe Blanton

In desperate need of starting pitcher, the Dodgers went out on the waiver wire and picked up a Philadelphia starting pitcher. Great! Oh, it’s not Cliff Lee? Instead, it’s 31-year-old Joe Blanton, a veteran of nine major league seasons with Oakland and Philadelphia. Blanton’s a free agent at the end of the season, and he’s due approximately $2.9m for the remainder of 2012. The Dodgers have reportedly given up a player to be named later, and any analysis of the deal obviously depends on who that might be.

Much more on this to come, of course, but Blanton is a clear upgrade on Stephen Fife and at least hedges against the possibility of Ted Lilly not returning. What’s odd is that Blanton is not only leading the league in most home runs allowed, he’s also at the top in K/BB ration, which is a totally bizarre mixture. Ben Duronio looked at Blanton’s weird season at FanGraphs on Tuesday:

So how has Blanton posted the top K/BB ratio in the league and allowed this many runs, specifically of the over the fence variety? It starts with tremendous control of every pitch he throws. PITCHf/x has Blanton labeled with six different pitches this year, each of which has a strike percentage above 64.4%. To put that into perspective, Colby Lewis has an even better K/BB ratio than Blanton this year and even he has a pitch that is thrown for a strike less than 60% of the time in his curveball.

Blanton last pitched on Saturday against Atlanta, and should be available when he arrives in Los Angeles. Guessing that means “Live Free or Fife Hard” is going to have to wait. Barring something unexpected in the player that goes back, I don’t mind this at all. Blanton isn’t Lee and he isn’t a star, but he’s clearly helpful at a minimal cost and commitment.

Just a Couple of Pieces Away…

Tuesday night’s one-run loss to the Atlanta Braves was just one game in what is the longest regular season in professional sports. A tightly contested affair that could easily have been a win, but seeing as it resulted in the Dodgers’ first home loss of 2012, there’s no better time than now to identify the weaknesses in this Dodgers depth. It’s a problem that has been lingering for over almost two years now, and will begin to fester if new ownership doesn’t do something soon. When a franchise has the kind of generational talents of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw (reaching the pinnacle of baseball at the same time), that franchise only has a small window of time to effectively build a winning product that compliments said talents for years to come. It’s time to acknowledge what this team does and more importantly does NOT have in the way of everyday pieces. Because what was the point of getting all giddy about the “Magic Era” beginning next month, if there wont be a clear deviation from the current path this franchise is on.

What the Dodgers Have:

  • SS – Dee Gordon will continue to be the “grease man”, using his youth, raw speed and athleticism to get on base and create offense.
  • 2B – Mark Ellis will continue to fill the Dodgers’ annual role of “veteran 2nd baseman stopgap” who uses a workman-like approach to get his hits and/or productive outs.
  • CF – Matt Kemp will be… well, Matt Kemp.
  • RF – Andre Ethier is clearly healthy and playing like All-Stars generally do in contract years.
  • C – A.J. Ellis has never been thought of as something he’s not. A solid catcher, who calls a great game, and gets on-base at alarming rates, is exactly what this club needed after the Dioner Navarro episode.
  • 1B – James Loney has always been a curious situation. Seeing as the franchise drafted him as a pitcher, it has always been impressive to me that James has had any of his limited success. It was quite clear that he was expendable when a bat like Prince Fielder was on the market, but for the time being James is doing his job of being just good enough to keep out of the cross hairs of the cynics.

What the Dodgers Don’t Have:

  • LF – Can anyone imagine what this ball club would feel like if we saw a starting lineup with a third outfielder whose name jumped off the page at you? Now, I do understand Juan Rivera is a solid veteran bat who is off to a respectable start (and just had his first home run). But it looks as if a hamstring issue has just landed Juan on the DL, which brings us to the “old guy” stereotype of being injury prone. First off, stereotypes are that way for a reason. And secondly, if you look at any title contender, there can only be so many veteran role players before you start complicating matters with DL stints and necessary days off. Not sure about you loyal readers at MSTI but I’d prefer to keep the “ranking old timer” role to just one position. Not to mention I’d like to see another 15-20 home run guy to follow Ethier in the lineup. Talk about a 3-4-5 nightmare for every pitcher in the Majors. While the Jr’s (Tony Gwynn and Jerry Hairston) do their best to help Mattingly’s current needs of positions by committee, a daily solution in LF would be a sight for sore eyes.
  • 3B – As cynical and bitter as I was during the San Francisco Giants’ run to a world series title in 2010, I was equally callous when I predicted that the slew of marginal role players would all cash in and be grossly over paid by various desperate clubs around the league. Sure enough, my LEAST favorite player from that list of Giants subsequently received his pay day from my own team. Another classic Colletti move in a long line of history defining acquisitions (while I use sarcasm as my crutch, Jason Schmidt is somewhere counting is stacks of money). The reality is that Juan Uribe was ALWAYS a free swinging fat guy who had the strength to hit home runs when he just so happened to run into one. It seems as if his age has caught up with him and his size is no longer translating to power (or the ability to catch up with fastballs for that matter). He blames his lack of production in the last year on injuries, I blame it on some sick twisted karmic fate. Adam Kennedy feels as if he’s been around forever, and Justin Sellers feels as if he’s lucky to be invited to the party. On a night where the visiting team’s 3rd baseman was celebrating his 40th birthday and 20th year in the league, the Dodgers were using their 4th 3rd baseman of the year. Clearly the position has been a carousel for years. Its also clear that 3rd base should be on Stan Kasten’s shortlist of major moves this year.

In an interview on MLB Network radio, Ned Colletti has confirmed the rumors that he will be actively seeking another bat by the trade deadline this summer. And according to Los Angeles Times writer TJ Simers, the Dodgers GM was in attendance of Tuesday night’s late inning loss to the Braves. Hopefully Ned was paying attention when Mattingly was forced to use Adam Kennedy and Tony Gwynn in consecutive, unsuccessful pinch hit situations. Then he just might be prompted to make multiple moves before the deadline and help shape this ball club for the future. More importantly, it might be his only chance to impress the new ownership and keep his job. This team has gone toe-to-toe with legitimate post-season clubs in Milwaukee and Atlanta, even with their apparent lack of depth. Los Angeles is theoretically a pair of key everyday players away from being a legitimate title contender, and it certainly feels like it’s time for Ned’s last stand as GM. A chance to rewrite his legacy and build that dynasty we all started daydreaming about last month.

Here comes the shameless self promotion…. If you cant get enough Dodgers content, check out “The Dodger Blog” for articles and pod casts.

See You In Hell, 2011

Initially, I had written up a piece about how maybe 2011 wasn’t that bad, not with a winning record, Matt Kemp & Clayton Kershaw‘s individual achievements (and Kemp’s contract extension), and Frank McCourt finally agreeing to sell the team. But you know what? You all know what happened this year, from the ongoing court battles, dwindling attendance, MLB takeover attempts, bi-weekly games of “will McCourt make payroll?”, taking the team into bankruptcy, embarrassing first-half play on the field, the Bryan Stow tragedy, the entire Steve Soboroff era, and finally Ned Colletti’s attempts to put together the best team of 2006. All in all, 2011′s going to go down as one of the most painful and embarrassing seasons in team history, and though it provided plenty of fun blogging topics, good riddance.

Here’s to 2012. New owner, hopefully a new general manager, and new hope. Cheers.

What Kind Of Games Are Happening In the Dodger Bullpen?

So here’s something fun: Twitter friend “JustOneMiss” comes through with an excellent find, of what what appears to a rudimentary scoreboard inside the Dodger bullpen area under the left field bleachers, taken during a stadium tour in late January.

(click to embiggen)

It’s fascinating, really, even though I have no idea what they’re tracking. It can’t be wins or saves; the first entry is for Ramon Troncoso on April 8, but he pitched a scoreless 7th inning in a 10-2 Dodger win. It can’t even just be for good performances, since April 16 shows Russ Ortiz, yet he gave up four earned runs over 1.2 innings.

But it does appear to have some correlation to in-game activity, since each of the names pitched that night. It also appears to have some connection to games the team won, since the April dates noted are all Dodger victories. So it seems that if the team loses, no one in the bullpen wins. Yet why, after Carlos “Monty” Monasterios gets noted for April 21, did no one pop up for the next eight days? The Dodgers did win on April 24 in Washington, an extra-inning affair in which Monasterios pitched 2.2 scoreless innings to get the win. Despite that omission, it’s clearly got something to do with Dodger victories, since you can see how long the May list is – it seems like forever ago now, but the Dodgers did go 20-8 that month.

If you look closely, the July 21 entry reads “Borzy/Flip”, clearly referencing bullpen catchers Mike Borzello and Rob Flippo. I suppose you can infer they earned some extra credit for Chad Billingsley‘s complete-game shutout of the Giants that night. There’s also a special notation of “Weaver #100″ on May 7, and that indeed is the day Jeff Weaver picked up his 100th career MLB victory – though apparently not enough to give him the nod over Ramon Troncoso in the bullpen olympics that night.

What I find most interesting here is that it’s not, as you might think, just a way to pass the time while at Dodger Stadium, because these are not all home games. Right off the bat, the April 8 game was in Pittsburgh, so they’re keeping score and on the road and bringing it back home.

It’s also an interesting way to see the progression of the bullpen as the season wore on. Mainstays Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Ronald Belisario are listed the most, but every now and then you’ll see a Justin Miller, a Jon Link, a Travis Schlichting. We probably forget too often that relievers actually do have lives during the 23.75 hours a day they’re not actually in the ballgame, and seeing the winners from April who didn’t last with the team must be a stark reminder of the human element of baseball, staring at you on this board months later.

So have at it, MSTI I-Team. What are we looking at here? What did you have to do during a Dodger victory to earn enshrinement in the Sharpie Hall of Fame here? Tossing sunflower seeds into a hat? Who can get the most digits from girls in the bleachers? Pin the tail on the Ortiz?

Great Photos of Classic Baseball

With the lack of any real news happening in Dodgerland at the moment, I thought I’d share something interesting that crossed my inbox today. Via the always great UniWatch, the family of late Sports Illustrated photographer Hy Peskin has put an assortment of his collected works online. Peskin was actually the first staff photographer SI had, and while he did more than just shoot athletic events, the color photography of his that survives from the 1950s and 60s is stunning.

It’s well worth it, I would say, to look through the entire baseball catalog. There’s only a few Dodger shots, but that’s not really the point; you’ll spend half your night marveling at the ballparks and uniforms of yesteryear.

As a taste, here’s a shot of Duke Snider from spring training in 1956 that’s so crystal clear it could have been taken yesterday: