MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Relievers, Part 1

Today we move on to relievers, and like the rotation, these are not necessarily ordered by importance, lest I end up with a day that is only about Lance Cormier and Mike MacDougal. Today, we start with an unexpected closer, a resurgent lefty, and a crazy old man.

Javy Guerra (A+)
2.31 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9

To say that Javy Guerra was an afterthought headed into the season is actually somewhat of an insult to afterthoughts. The only real mention Guerra got around here before the year started was when I looked at the 40-man roster crunch the Dodgers might be looking at, since they were breaking camp with so many non-roster invites, and figured that he along with John Lindsey might actually be a prime candidate for being DFA’d:

Lindsey’s the obvious choice, but if more than one spot is needed, you might also look at 25-year-old Javy Guerra, a veteran of seven minor league seasons with the Dodgers. His 2.33 ERA in 28 AA games last year may look shiny, but the 7.3 BB/9 (and 5.3 career) don’t really back it up, nor does the 1.603 career WHIP. He suffered shoulder soreness last year and then had to deal with an infection caused by a cut while washing dishes this winter. Guerra reportedly has a plus fastball, and I’m sure the Dodgers would prefer to hold onto him, but at 25, he’s no longer a kid, and his struggles at AA could make him vulnerable if a spot is needed.

That doesn’t look great for me in retrospect, though it’s hard to act as though anyone at all saw Guerra as much of an option this year. With the bullpen destroyed by injury, he got the call on May 15 as Blake Hawksworth hit the disabled list, and picked up his first big-league save just over a week later with Kenley Jansen unavailable and on his way to own disabled list trip.

Though it probably seems now that he came up and immediately took over the 9th inning, it didn’t really work out that way; he had one save in May and one in June, partially because the Dodger offense was at their low point at the time and rarely were there late leads to protect. He really took over the job in July, collecting six saves without blowing any (despite doing his best a few times), but as you can see from our midseason review, I wasn’t exactly sold on him yet:

Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

And had he kept up his rate of production at that point, I do believe it would have fallen apart for him. But Guerra found a way to improve. After striking out 6.1/9 before the break, he improved to 8.2/9 afterwards, lowering his OPS against from .704 to .533. In August, I had to acknowledge his success:

I also want to take the time to praise Javy Guerra, who struck out three in 1.1 scoreless innings to get his 10th save, coming in with two outs in the eighth after Mike MacDougal walked two and made a throwing error. I’ve been lukewarm on Guerra for some time, feeling that simply getting “saves” doesn’t make a pitcher any good, especially since his peripherals were iffy and his minor-league track record showed little indication of success. At the end of play of July 6, Guerra had struck out just 10 in 17.1 innings, while allowing 19 hits and five walks, good for a line of .284/.342/.343 against. In the month since, he’s appeared in 10 games with a 12/2 K/BB, allowing just five hits without an earned run. I’m still not sure that Guerra can keep this up over the long-term, but for the moment, he’s outdoing all our expectations.

Guerra, to his credit, was able to keep it up for the rest of the season, saving 21 games while blowing just two. (One of which was the ugly walkoff grand slam in Arizona in the final days of the season, after Hawksworth couldn’t hold on to a large lead or remember to cover first base.) Considering how little we thought of him entering the year, Guerra’s debut was a massive debut, one that likely cements him as the 2012 closer. Of course, since we know that saves are generally a useless stat, that does probably mean he’s a little overrated, since he’s in no way as dominant as Kenley Jansen, and he’s someone who’s near the top of my list of “possible regression dangers”. Still, as Jon Weisman rightly notes, it’s probably more effective to reserve Guerra for the 9th and have Jansen available to crush batters as needed. For Guerra, on absolutely no one’s prospect radar entering the season, it’s a role he’s earned. A+, Javy.

Scott Elbert (A+)
2.73 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9

Believe it or not, this was Elbert’s fourth (partial) season as a Dodger, though he pitched just 26.1 innings over his first three; his debut in 2008 came just weeks after Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake joined the club.

Of course, at this time last year, we weren’t sure if we’d ever see Elbert in the big leagues again. After getting into just one game in 2010, Elbert walked away from the organization and baseball entirely, returning home for personal reasons which still haven’t been completely made public. He didn’t appear in a game after June, though he did rejoin the Dodgers and his new manager Don Mattingly in the Arizona Fall League, where he officially transitioned from starting to relieving.

Despite a nice AFL performance, we still weren’t sure what to make of him, and his initial wildness in camp seemed to indicate that he could use more seasoning, particularly after missing half of 2010:

You’ll probably hear people say that Scott Elbert punched his ticket back to the minors this afternoon in Arizona, as he walked four of the six batters he faced and managed to get just six of his 21 pitches across for strikes. That comes after a spring debut in which he walked two in one inning, meaning that he’s walked six of the ten spring batters he’s seen.

Now maybe his slow start to the spring is what’s going to get him knocked down to AAA, and maybe it’s not, but my feeling has always been that it shouldn’t matter. Unless he was able to come to camp and dominate, that always should have been the plan. And why not? He’s always had control issues, walking 5.0/9 in the minors, and last year that went up to an untenable 7.1/9. That’s of course before his well-publicized but little-understood leave of absence that meant he didn’t pitch after June.

Elbert did indeed start the year in the minors, getting recalled in mid-May when Hong-Chih Kuo went on the disabled list with anxiety issues; in his season debut, he struck out all three Diamondbacks he faced in the 8th inning on May 15. He stayed on the team for the rest of the season, though it’s hard to say he’d made much of an impression on us over the first two months, considering what I wrote in the first half review on July 12.

I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partially because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

In the second half, Elbert took an even bigger step forward, contributing a 21/8 K/BB in 21.2 innings, allowing just two earned runs and a .593 OPS against. On the season, he struck out more than a man per inning while keeping his walks to an acceptable rate, important considering his history of wildness, and allowing just a single homer. The L/R split alluded to above was almost certainly the result of small sample size weirdness, since by the end of the year he’d held lefties to just an .191/.267/.250 line.

Still just 26 and despite the limited service time, Elbert is out of options, so he’s all but guaranteed a job in 2012, and could be the team’s only bullpen lefty if Kuo doesn’t return. Considering that no one was even sure if he’d have a career a year ago, that’s a fantastic turnaround.

Vicente Padilla (inc.)
4.15 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 9.3 K/9, 5.2 BB/9,

Padilla faced all of 36 batters over 8.2 innings this year, or what Clayton Kershaw does in just over one start, yet I feel like we talked about him far more than was necessary for that amount of playing time. After starting one of the weirder Dodger careers ever by going from “scrapheap pickup in August 2009″ to “Opening Day starter in 2010″ to “accidentally shooting himself”, Padilla signed a seemingly bizarre one-year deal last winter to serve as some sort of hybrid 5th starter/long man role.

Of course, he didn’t even make it out of camp before going under the knife for arm surgery; when he came back at the end of April, not only was he not a starter, he was suddenly the closer, since Jonathan Broxton was injured and no one knew who Guerra was yet.

That lasted for all of about three weeks before heading back to the disabled list with more arm discomfort. Here’s where it gets really weird, though; in early June, he had rejoined the team in Cincinnati and was expected to be activated that night. He wasn’t, and ten days later we found out that he would miss the rest of the season thanks to neck surgery, of all things. We’ve heard very little about his recovery and if he intends to resume his baseball career; Padilla has been reasonably successful in parts of three seasons as a Dodger, and I’d certainly toss him a non-roster invite for 2012. Besides, doesn’t every team need a little bit of crazy?

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Next! Matt Guerrier is still overpaid! Jonathan Broxton‘s sad farewell! And Blake Hawksworth still isn’t Ryan Theriot! It’s relievers, part 2!

The MSTI 15-Step Plan for 2012

It’s time for another edition of the yearly plan, in which I put on my GM hat and try to piece together a competitive 2012 club using realistic payroll and player restrictions. Before we start, I have to be honest: this was so much harder to do than it’s ever been. In previous years, I’ve looked forward to putting on the GM hat and thinking up interesting and realistic ideas to improve the next year’s team, but doing it this time was a struggle. Though the uncertain budget thanks to the McCourt mess is part of it, an even bigger problem is that there’s just not much out there. The free agent list is sparse, and while there’s values to be had in the trade market, the Dodgers have little of interest that they can move without opening up a new hole.

I thought about all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps the #5 starter hole could be filled by buying low (extremely low) on previously-successful veterans who have fallen out of favor and would be heavily subsidized, like Derek Lowe or John Lackey (before it was announced he’d miss 2012). Maybe there was some way to get the Red Sox to give up Jed Lowrie or Will Middlebrooks to help stabilize second or third base. Perhaps a package including Chad Billingsley could be sent to Kansas City for Alex Gordon, though the Royals are unlikely to be interested in such a deal and that would just open up another rotation hole anyway. Maybe 2005 Jeff Kent could rise from the dead and return to the Dodgers, because the second base market is a total mess. Is it worth believing that Aaron Hill or Kelly Johnson can come back from down years to reclaim past glory at the keystone? Or maybe you could go cheap elsewhere and pray that Aramis Ramirez, nearing his mid-30s, is worth the ~$40m he’s likely to get to play third base?

In the end, little of it made sense, at least in any way that would be realistic for the other team, because I like to think this blog isn’t the home of “I’ll trade you Mike MacDougal for Ian Kinsler!” type solutions. The Dodgers are boxed in by criminal ownership, too much dead money owed to long-departed players, ballooning payments to poor investments like Juan Uribe & Matt Guerrier, and outside alternatives that are less than ideal. Perhaps Ned Colletti wasn’t that far off when he suggested that he was generally okay with the current roster, because he had done this work already and knew that there was unlikely to be much movement.

Then again, perhaps he’s just not being creative.

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The first question, of course, is how much do the Dodgers have to spend on payroll in 2012? It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer right now, a problem Colletti has as much admitted to. In 2011, they spent about $98m on players, plus about $17m in “dead” money, for a total of ~$115m. Without revealing how much, this Tony Jackson interview with Ned Colletti claims that “all indications are it will be higher than the roughly $98 million it was this year.” Let’s guess that means an extra $5m, so that’ll put us to a $120m cap including the dead money. I’ve seen the arguments that the longer the ownership dispute drags on, the more likely it is that the payroll decreases by tens of millions of dollars, but I’m not buying it; it’s in no one’s best interest for the value of the Dodgers to go down any further than it already has, and MLB has been consistent about claiming it will be “business as usual” for the Dodgers this winter – whatever that means.

Of course, that doesn’t really mean there’s $120m available to spend. The Dodgers still have about $21m in deferred money committed to the dearly departed, including Manny Ramirez ($8m), Juan Pierre ($3m), Andruw Jones ($3.375m), Rafael Furcal ($3m), and Hiroki Kuroda ($2m), and also including the already-exercised buyouts of Casey Blake ($1.25m) and Jon Garland ($1.5m). So that $120m figure is already down to $99m.
Dead money: $120m – $21m = $99m

Then there’s the money already committed to members of the 2012 club, and here’s where the back-loaded contracts of Juan Uribe ($8m) & Matt Guerrier ($4.75m) really come back to bite us in the ass, making them look even more brutal than the day they were signed. While Ted Lilly at least finished 2011 strong, his salary increases from $7.5m to $12m in 2012, a whole more than I really want to pay him. That, plus the $9m owed to Chad Billingsley, eats up $33.7m of the $99m, leaving us with $65.3m to play with.
Committed money: $99m – $33.7m = $65.3m

But we’re not done yet, because several key members of the core are without contracts yet under team control in 2012. It’s sometimes difficult to guess what will come out of arbitration hearings, so for now we’ll go with Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA‘s guesses that Clayton Kershaw will get $8m, Andre Ethier will get $12m, and Matt Kemp will get $13m. (The TBLA payroll sheet is an invaluable resource not just for this piece, but all year long.) I hate the idea of giving Ethier that much, but now, when his value is at a low, is no time to trade him. We’ll see about changing those numbers later, and there are definitely other arbitration decisions to be made, but the $33m we just said goodbye to means that with just seven spots on the roster set, we’ve already got $87.7m spoken for, leaving $32.3m to fill out 18 other spots. See how quickly $100m can go?
Arbitration money: $65.3m – $33m = $32.3m

Finally, let’s dedicate about $3m in minimum salary contracts to team-controlled 0-3 players who are almost certain to be on the roster next year – A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom, Blake Hawksworth and Scott Elbert. Now we have fifteen spots at a cost of $90.9m, leaving us with $29.3m.
Controlled money: $32.3m – $3m = $29.3m

$29.3m, ten holes. What do you do? Here’s one man’s blueprint…

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1) Sign OF Matt Kemp to a long-term deal.

This should be obvious and in no way arguable. It’s the absolute #1 priority of the winter, no matter what else happens. You can argue how much and over how many years – that’s a conversation for another time - but don’t forget that he’s still under team control for 2012, so the Dodgers retain some leverage. We’ll assume that whatever deal he gets is somewhat backloaded and settle on $12m for next year, more than he made in 2011 but less than he’d probably get in arbitration, which should be fine considering he’ll have the security of a long-term deal.
$29.3m +$1m = $30.3m (since I already accounted for him as $13m above)

2) Sign 1B Prince Fielder to a six-year, $140m deal.

I went back and forth on this one – a lot. I even wrote about the likelihood of Fielder or Albert Pujols arriving a few weeks ago and concluded that it was neither likely or advisable, simply because I don’t like the idea of tying up so much money into one player, especially when that’s going to need to happen for Kemp and Kershaw as well. Even just theoretically talking about it makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it’s so risky. If you want to make the argument that this money is best spent elsewhere, I’m more than open to it.

In the end, I settled on going for it in this exercise because the other options were simply so unattractive. Believe me, I had a whole lot of iterations of this article where I was trying to believe in James Loney and then working on other ways to upgrade. Since it’s hard to see any way to improve at 2B or 3B, your hopes for the infield were to either have to count on Loney to repeat the last six weeks of his season after four years of mediocrity, or overpay for a veteran like Derrek Lee or Lyle Overbay who is unlikely to be much better. There’s a big argument to be made that one year of Loney at $6m is a steal if he hits like he did to finish the season; there’s an even bigger argument to be made that if he doesn’t, you’re once again saddled with an infield that has almost no power whatsoever. If you’re going to try to contend in 2012, and I would argue that having Kemp & Kershaw means you are, then you need to make a move – in addition to the desperately needed positive PR that such a signing would bring.

Besides, it’s the perfect time to go after a Fielder because the traditional big spenders likely won’t be around to drive up the price. The Yankees and Red Sox are each heavily invested at first base and have bigger needs, especially in pitching. The Phillies are about to start a (hilarious) $125m extension with Ryan Howard; even though he’s hurt, their replacement there would be short-term, and the Cardinals will likely just retain Pujols. The Angels probably won’t jump in considering they already have both Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales on hand; the Rangers could be a fit but probably need to focus on pitching. You could definitely see the Cubs being interested, though it’s hard to know what their winter of transition will bring; the Braves definitely need a bat but seem happy with Freddie Freeman at first base. The best possibilities are probably Washington and Baltimore, but the Nats already have Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche under contract for first base and have been burned by the first year of Jayson Werth‘s massive deal; the O’s don’t even have a GM yet and probably have bigger concerns than first base. That’s not to say that Prince won’t get paid, because he will, just that it’s not likely to be the $200m+ figure I’ve seen thrown around.

In addition, Fielder’s relative youth (he’ll still be just 27 on Opening Day of 2012) means that the back-end of a six-year deal would be his age 32-33 seasons, not 35-36. That’s still young enough that you’ll be purchasing most of his prime, not most of his decline, and that’s a big deal considering the concerns about his body type. While I’m admittedly loathe to give up first round picks for free agents, Fielder at least has the potential to be the kind of franchise changer that could make it worth it (and yes, I’m looking at you, Orlando Hudson). Whether the 6/$140m is close or not – I really just made it up without an overwhelming amount of research, so it could be something like 7/$160m instead - it’ll clearly be backloaded, so we’ll start with $13.5m in 2012 as we wait a year or two for other obligations and the ownership crisis to clear. While there’s certainly a very good argument to be made that adding another huge long-term contract to a team that will need to pay Kemp and Kershaw is dangerous, there’s a lot of money coming off the books after 2013, when Lilly, Uribe, and Guerrier (combining to make about ~$25m that year) all figure to be gone, in addition to being free of further payments to Manny. That’s on top of the money you get back assuming that Ethier is no longer with the team after 2012.
$30.3m - $13.5m = $16.8m

3) Trade RP Javy Guerra, SP Chris Withrow, and 2B Ivan DeJesus to Florida for LF/1B Logan Morrison.

This is another one I went back and forth on a lot, initially considering Morrison for first base rather than left field. Then, after getting Fielder, I figured, what the hell – why not try for both? Morrison’s spat with Marlins management is well-known, leading to a brief demotion this summer, and with reports that ownership is ready to take more control over player decisions, it’s not hard to see them wanting to be rid of the outspoken Twitter hero as soon as they can. That makes him an appealing buy-low target, since as he enters his age-24 season, he’s coming off a 2010 in which he had a .390 OBP and a 2011 in which he hit 23 homers. (The obvious comeback there is, “well, he hasn’t done both at the same time, since he hit just 2 homers in 2010 and had a .330 OBP in 2011.” Both true, however his age and his minor league track record suggest otherwise, especially considering that much of his power loss in 2010 can be put on a broken wrist, an injury notorious for sapping power for at least a year, and his 2011 BABIP was quite low before ending the year with a fantastic September.)

Of course, “buy low” does not mean “trade garbage or expensive contracts to Florida”, because he’s low-priced and productive, and so that’s why I’m taking the possibly unpopular route of trading last season’s surprise rookie closer, Guerra. It’s not that I don’t like Guerra, because he was an out of nowhere success story, but if you’re making a trade, you need to deal from depth – and nowhere do the Dodgers have more depth than in young, righty relievers. Besides, Guerra’s high on my list for regression in 2012; his .261 BABIP was on the low side this year, his 4.07 xFIP was a lot less impressive than his 2.31 ERA, and his minor league history doesn’t shout superstar. That’s not to say that he can’t succeed or that I’m desperate to be rid of him, because that’s not true – just that saves are almost always overrated in the marketplace and it might be the best use of Guerra’s value to trade him at the peak of his perceived attractiveness, especially when the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen able to step in and several other young relievers ready to come up.

On the Florida side, they have a big hole in the bullpen thanks to the identity fraud scandal of Leo Nunez (or Juan Carlos Oviedo, Armen Tanzarian, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, or whatever he’s calling himself these days), and the Fish have never been big players in the market, so five more cost-controlled years of Guerra should be appealing. They also get a lottery ticket in Withrow, showing signs of life with 9.1 K/9 in AA last year, though still struggling with his control, and DeJesus, who seems to have little future in Los Angeles but shouldn’t be written off completely since he’s still only 24 and shows good on-base skills in the minors. (As always, the prospects could be replaced by anyone of similar value – it doesn’t have to be exactly these guys – but you get the idea. If they prefer Brian Cavazos-Galvez or Ethan Martin or Kyle Russell or someone instead, fine.)
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m (Morrison would take Guerra’s 0-3 slot for a similar salary)

4) Don’t try to trade Andre Ethier – at least not now.

Believe me, there’s plenty of good reasons to move Ethier. He’s a bit overrated. He’s cranky. He’s coming off surgery. He can’t hit lefties. He’s not a great defender. When he’s a free agent after 2012, he’s a lower priority than Kemp and Kershaw, and not someone I want to sign to an expensive long-term deal as he enters his decline phase. I totally agree with all of this. However, now’s not the right time to do it. For all of those reasons plus the ~$12m cost for one year before losing him to free agency, I really don’t think the return is out there that we’d want. Even if teams would take the one year of Ethier for that price with all of the issues, it’s unlikely that anyone would give a top prospect in return.

Besides, I expect big things from Ethier in 2012. He’ll be healthy for the first time in a while, and headed into a contract year he should be especially motivated – and Ethier is exactly the type of “chip on my shoulder” player who really responds to that sort of thing. If he’s playing well and the Dodgers are out of it in July, you might be able to get a good prospect in return then (like the Mets getting Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran). If the Dodgers are still in it, you ride it out, try to win, and then collect two draft picks when he leaves.
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m

5) Sign 3B/UT Wilson Betemit to a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Unfortunately, Uribe is going to be the starting third baseman in 2012. There’s just no way around it. Even if we didn’t have Fielder eating up a huge part of the hypothetical payroll, third base is just a black hole on the market, unless you want to overpay Ramirez or risk a ton of prospects on David Wright. Since Uribe’s going to get paid, he’s going to be the man, but you also can’t risk not having an alternative in case he repeats his 2011.

That’s a tough spot to fill. No one who thinks he’s a full-time starter is going to come to LA for a small contract and the possibility of riding the bench, but most of the available bench types are like Aaron Miles, stopgaps who provide little value. That brings us to Betemit, who I advocated acquiring in the 2011 plan. All he ended up doing was hit .285/.343/.452 for Kansas City and Detroit, albeit with subpar defense. But that’s kind of a perfect fit, isn’t it? Uribe may or may not be able to hit, but even in his lost 2011 he was a solid defender, and Betemit provides the yin to that yang. Besides, the switch-hitting Betemit has a massive platoon split (vs RHP, .865 OPS in 2011, .817 career; vs LHP, .607 OPS in 2011, .684 career) which makes him an intriguing bench piece and/or part-time replacement for Uribe. In emergencies, he can play first and second as well, nice flexibility even if it’s hopefully not needed. Betemit made $1m last year, so let’s give him a slight raise. (An alternative here is Eric Chavez, who I liked last season, if he chooses to play in 2012.)
$16.8m – $1.5m = $15.3m

6) Bring back C Rod Barajas on a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Let’s start with this: you absolutely cannot enter the season with A.J. Ellis & Tim Federowicz as your backstop duo, no matter what Ned Colletti says. Federowicz isn’t ready now (if he will be at all) and needs to play regularly at AAA. Even if you’re a bigger fan of him than I am, you still can’t get by with only two catchers who have combined for less than a full season of MLB play.

Now, I thought about Ramon Hernandez here, though I eventually decided against him because he’s a Type A free agent and may get a two-year deal. I thought about Ryan Doumit to add some switch-hitting pop, but was turned off by his atrocious defense and possible salary demands since he made over $6m last year. In the end, there’s no available difference maker who is really likely to matter, so even though I don’t really want to, we’ll take advantage of Barajas’ stated preference to remain a Dodger and let him do so at a discounted rate. It’s not sexy, and he’s not all that good, but he’s at least got power and the state of catching is so poor that a Barajas/Ellis duo could actually be slightly above average. On this team, Ellis starts 4-5 days a week, not Barajas.
$15.3m – $1.5m = $13.8m

7) Bring back 2B Jamey Carroll for two years and $4m.

This actually scares the hell out of me, and I don’t really like doing it, much as I like Carroll. He’s got absolutely zero power and he’ll be 38 in February; to be honest, I hate everything about this. That said, the second base market is absolutely god awful. My version of the Dodgers can neither afford nor count on Hill or Johnson, and Carroll at least offers on-base skills and decent enough defense. Along with Sellers, he’s also a fallback position in case Gordon flails or is injured; I don’t want to give Carroll two years, yet that’s probably what the market will demand. Ideally, he could get through one more year as a solid OBP guy, and then a better 2B option emerges for 2013, allowing Carroll to spend the second year as the utility guy he really ought to be.
$13.8m – $2m = $11.8m

8) Hedge your bets with Jerry Sands.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve acquired a first baseman and a left fielder, which doesn’t leave a spot for Sands, who finished 2011 so well. In reality, when the Dodgers don’t get a player at either position, I’m more than fine with Sands getting first crack at left field. That said, he’s not enough of a slam-dunk prospect that you simply hand him the job with no backup plan better than a Tony Gwynn, so in this scenario he’ll be able to get playing time in both outfield corners, since Morrison and Ethier are both lefties (even moreso if Morrison is needed to fill in at first base from time to time), and as the main bat off the bench. If he continues to prove himself worthy, you let him step in for Ethier in right field when Andre is traded in July or moves on after 2012. Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, you let him play every day in AAA until injuries pile up.
$11.8m – $0m = $11.8m

9) Round out the bench with minimum-salary deals for IF Justin Sellers and OF Jamie Hoffmann.

Here’s where the big deal for Fielder bites you a little bit, because you no longer have the flexibility to carry much more than minimum salary types on the bottom of the roster. I would really have liked to have gone out and found some intriguing buy-low types like David DeJesus here; unfortunately, it’s just not feasible now. I’ve been pessimistic of Sellers’ ability to hit at the big league level, but he has a solid glove at both middle infield positions, and entering his age-26 season, he’s not enough of a prospect to worry about needing to play every day. Hoffmann is someone I’d like to do better than, yet he’ll be useful because this roster would desperately need a plus defender, and I’d prefer Hoffmann over Gwynn because he hits righty, which is preferable when you’ve got two starting lefty corner outfielders.
$11.8m – $0.8m = $11m

10) Bring back SP Hiroki Kuroda for one year and $9m ($2m deferred).

This is a bit risky, because Kuroda will be 37 years old in February and was slowed by neck pain for the last few weeks of the season. But he’s also coming off the best year of his career, and the Dodgers have a special gift here in that he’s almost certain to favor them over any other team (assuming he chooses to come back, of course). There’s also no one on the market likely to give the type of production we’ve seen from Kuroda for just a one-year deal, either, so if he’s willing to return, we should be happy to have him for one more season.
$11m – $7m = $4m

11) Sign SP Erik Bedard to a one-year, $2m deal, with the opportunity to add a good deal of incentives.

Bedard is almost never healthy for a full season (missed 2010, hasn’t thrown more than 129 innings since 2007), yet is almost always effective when he is. We saw that again this year, where he missed 45 days with two separate injuries (both to his knee, rather than his arm) but put up a 3.62 ERA that was matched by the advanced stats and a 125/48 K/BB for Seattle and Boston, making $1m while doing so.

As he reaches his age-33 season, and with his history, it’s unlikely that anyone is offering him big guaranteed money this winter, so he could be available for a low base price plus incentives. (It’s also possible that I’m completely low-balling this.)

If we accept the fact that he absolutely will miss some time and don’t get disappointent when it happens, I’d rather spend $2m guaranteed to get ~15 good starts from him and ~10 starts from fill-ins rather than ~30 mediocre starts from the 6th-8th starters.
$4m – $2m = $2m

12) Sign SP Rich Harden to a one-year, $1m deal.

I can hear the hesitation now. “Harden is constantly hurt, to the point where a proposed deal that would have sent him to Boston this summer fell apart over concerns about his medicals. He threw just 174.2 innings over the last two seasons combined, and his ERAs the last two years have been 5.58 and 5.12. Why in the hell would you want him?”

Well, I always like a lottery ticket, and as Harden enters his age-30 season, he seems like a perfect candidate to fill the relief ace/spot starter role that Vicente Padilla was supposed to have in 2011. Despite Harden’s ugly ERA last year, his xFIP was merely 3.68, with a 91/31 K/BB in 82.2 innings. His home run rate is admittedly troubling, but hey, we’re talking about a guy on a $1m deal here. If Bedard & Harden can combine for 25-30 decent starts for $3m plus incentives at the back of your rotation, that’s value even if they combine for 100 days on the disabled list. And if they both blow up? Well, at least you took the chance on talent over assured mediocrity, and it’s only $3m.
$2m – $1m = $1m

13) Buy a coach-class ticket to non-tender city for Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Loney made this a pretty tough call with his hot end to 2011, and let me say that in the real world, the one in which the Dodgers aren’t really going to get Prince Fielder, I think he’s going to be tendered a contract to give him one more chance to prove his worth. Though I’d be positive that he’d succeed if he landed somewhere else, there’s no room for a $6m pinch-hitter on this club. (Obviously, trading him would be preferable to non-tendering, though I’m not sure any other club is taking that $6m gamble either.)

Kuo is the longest-tenured Dodger and I’d hate to see him go, but his 2011 struggles, long injury history, and yet another elbow surgery last week mean that risking a raise on his $2.73m salary in arbitration is foolish. If he does want to play and doesn’t want to risk turning his arm over to a new training staff who doesn’t know him well, he might be willing to come back on a reduced contract; you could argue that he should get Harden’s $1m allotted above, or you might even get lucky and get him back on a non-guaranteed deal.

14) Say goodbye to 2011 free agents Juan Rivera, Casey Blake, Tony Gwynn, Jay GibbonsAaron Miles, Eugenio Velez, Jon GarlandDana Eveland, Vicente Padilla, Mike MacDougal, and Jonathan Broxton.

Let’s caveat that by saying that if you can get any of these guys back (except Velez, who should be extradited from the country) on a minor-league deal to fight for a job in camp, then by all means do so – particularly Padilla, who has always been surprisingly effective as a Dodger when healthy. I’m guessing that’s unlikely to happen for most of them, who will merit at least a small major-league deal. In reality, I expect that Rivera, MacDougal, and Miles will all return, but there’s just no room for them on my hypothetical team.

15) Turn Pedro Baez into a pitcher. Come on already.

Yeah, I said this last season too, arguing that Baez’ rocket arm wasn’t going to be enough to get him to the bigs as a third baseman, especially considering that despite being old for the competition in the offensively-oriented California League, he managed just a .306 OBP and six homers in 2010. So what did he do this year to follow it up? He played in just 32 AA games, hitting .210/.278/.381, and missed the entire season after May with an injury. (Which, to be honest, I have not been able to identify.) I’m not saying it’s any sort of guarantee that such a conversion works out like it did for Jansen, but it basically is a guarantee that Baez never becomes a big leaguer as a third baseman. It’s worth a shot for both sides.

******

So what does this leave us with? A lineup that could look like this…

2B Carroll-R
LF Morrison-L
CF Kemp-R
1B Fielder-L
RF Ethier-L
3B Uribe-R
C Ellis-R
SS Gordon-S

BN: Barajas-R, Betemit-S, Sellers-R, Sands-R, Hoffmann-R

Though I know the real team would never actually let Carroll lead off and put Gordon 8th, that’s where I’m putting them due to their respective OBP skills. It’s amazing how much Fielder and Morrison lengthen that lineup, isn’t it, and how much better does that look than last year when we were forced to depend on Uribe, Dioner Navarro, Casey Blake, Marcus Thames, and Jay Gibbons? While the bench is less than sexy, that’s what you have to live with if you dedicate so much payroll to one or two expensive players. However, Sellers and Hoffmann are each excellent defenders, and could really come in handy replacing Gordon/Carroll and Morrison/Ethier for defensive purposes in the late innings. Betemit & Barajas would provide offense, if used correctly, and protection. At AAA, you’d still likely have Federowicz, Russ MitchellTrent Oeltjen, Alex Castellanos, Scott Van Slyke and whatever NRIs you pick up (Andy LaRoche, anyone?) along with others for depth.

Then your pitching staff would look like this…

1) Kershaw
2) Kuroda
3) Billingsley
4) Lilly
5) Bedard

CL Jansen
R Lindblom
R Guerrier
R Hawksworth
R Harden
L Elbert
NRI / Kuo / Padilla / Troncoso

I’d be a whole lot more comfortable with another ace in that rotation, but I guess that’s what happens when you give $33m to Ted Lilly. If and when Bedard breaks down, you could either move up Harden or bring up Nathan Eovaldi, John Ely, or your yearly veteran non-roster guy like Dana Eveland – if not Eveland himself. (I kind of like Dontrelle Willis as an NRI; look past his W/L record for Cincinnati and he actually had a decent year.) Later in the year, a younger starter like Allen Webster could be a factor, or even Rubby De La Rosa depending on the progress of his recovery. The bullpen could look forward to possibilities like Shawn Tolleson, Cole St. Clair, Steve Ames, and whatever random veteran NRI shows up in camp.

******

So that’s it. I’ve been staring at this for weeks and I’m still not sure I’m happy with it. Is it foolish to think that signing Fielder is even possible? Perhaps. Am I unintentionally low-balling what Bedard or Betemit might actually get, because I don’t want to give them more? Maybe so, and I didn’t get Kershaw signed long-term (though I suppose you could also do that and structure it so that it doesn’t affect 2012 that much). Either way, this is a team that could be built, in theory, for something close to what the Dodgers can spend, and it’d likely be a lot more competitive and interesting than what they have now. Compare this to some of the fantastic plans you all thought up over the weekend, and then let’s not try to be too disappointed when the big moves in reality are to bring back Rivera and sign Yuniesky Betancourt.

2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

******

Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

The Dodger Bullpen Has Lost Control


It’s no secret that the Dodger bullpen, once thought to be a strength, has dissolved into a nightmare. Just look at the nine pitchers they’ve had enter a game as a reliever this year. Two, Jonathan Broxton & Hong-Chih Kuo, were shadows of their former selves before hitting the disabled list. One is Ramon Troncoso, who was so ineffective (12 hits with just 17 batters faced) before he was shipped out that it was hard to believe, and he’s unlikely to be seen back with the team any time soon.

The remaining six – Vicente Padilla, Kenley Jansen, Mike MacDougal, Blake HawksworthMatt Guerrier and Lance Cormier – remain with the team. (Scott Elbert gets a pass for the moment since he’s not yet appeared in a game.) The results have been terrifying, particularly in the wake of Guerrier and Padilla nearly blowing an excellent Clayton Kershaw start last night by allowing three runs in relief. For Padilla, that makes five hits and seven baserunners over his last three appearances, though he’s generally escaped criticism because the Dodgers have won all three games and because he’s anatomically correct, or something.

Surprisingly, the problem isn’t that the group is striking out fewer batters even without the Broxton and Kuo of old, as the rate of 8.05/9 is 10th in the bigs and is actually slightly ahead of 2010′s rate of 7.97/9. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter as much when the walk rate of the Dodger bullpen is the worst in baseball. No, really: the 4.76 BB/9 rate as of this morning is 30th in MLB. With the exception of Troncoso, who couldn’t avoid getting hit long enough to even issue four balls to a single batter, not one Dodger reliever is walking fewer than three per nine. Five of them – Padilla, MacDougal, Jansen, Broxton, & Kuo – have BB/9 rates north of five. Last year, of the relievers who saw more than a token appearance, only three – Broxton, Jansen, and George Sherrill – walked more than four per nine. On the whole, the walk rate has risen by nearly a full batter per game, from 3.90 last year to this year’s 4.76.

Worse, when the batters do put the balls in play, they’re not being converted into outs. We’ve been noting anecdotal examples all year where balls that weren’t hit all that hard have just barely eluded the collection of range-challenged defenders that are generally behind the pitchers, and the stats bare that out. The Dodgers are 26th in Baseball Prospectus‘ Defensive Efficiency, and it’s no surprise that the teams below them are struggling greatly in the standings as well. The combination of the two is in large part why the club ranks dead last in percentage of inherited runners stranded, at just 65.5%. By comparison, the Royals, who lead that category (!), strand 82.8% of such runners.

It’s a pretty simple formula, then. A bullpen that issues far too many free passes in front of a defense that fails to convert enough balls into outs is doomed to failure. None of this is completely surprising, of course, for a bullpen that has lost two of the most effective relievers of the last four years and has had to patch with retreads like Cormier and MacDougal. It’s also not likely to get better soon, particularly with the erratic Elbert yet to contribute and with little help on the way from AAA Albuquerque. Should be good for TV ratings, though, because you can never turn away from a Dodger game before the last out is made, right?

******

James Loney and Juan Uribe each went without hits, again. It’s not even really fun to point that out anymore. But at least Jamey Carroll continued his generally unrecognized excellence by getting on three times, and even Aaron Miles is contributing enough that I can’t even really make fun of him anymore, despite his .286 batting average being totally empty.

******

I also don’t want to shortchange Kershaw, because his his 80 Game Score (thanks to 11 K, 3 H, 2 BB, over seven scoreless innings) ranks as the fifth best start of his entire career.

Rk Date Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H ER BB SO GSc BF
1 2010-05-09 COL W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 3 9 84 28
2 2010-09-14 SFG W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 4 83 30
3 2009-04-15 SFG W 5-4 GS-7 7.0 1 1 1 13 83 22
4 2009-08-08 ATL L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 2 0 1 10 82 23
5 2011-05-13 ARI W 4-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 3 0 2 11 80 26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/14/2011.

Sometimes I think we don’t fully recognize the maturation we’re seeing right before our very eyes, particularly in reining in the wildness and high pitch counts of previous years. Kershaw’s the best thing about the Dodgers right now.

A Much Needed Day Off

The Dodgers have today off, their first after a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. Usually a day without baseball is arduous, but I for one am glad for the break, because what happened in a stretch of just two hours yesterday afternoon is unlike I’ve ever seen.

At approximately 12:30 pm PST, the Dodgers were avoiding a sweep in Miami, as homers from Rod Barajas in the 5th and Andre Ethier in the 10th – along with four scoreless innings of relief from Blake Hawksworth, Matt Guerrier, and Vicente Padilla – helped overcome the 4-0 deficit that Chad Billingsley had put them into. Billingsley’s final line indicates a shaky start, but all of the Florida damage came in the second innings; other than a few walks, he was essentially perfect in his other five innings.

The big story there – other than Ethier’s heroics, of course – was Padilla entering the game to nail down the save in the bottom of the 10th, rather than Jonathan Broxton, deemed “unavailable” despite not having pitched the day before and with today being a day off. Much will be made of Padilla’s usage over Broxton, despite Don Mattingly claiming after the game that Broxton remains his closer. (Dylan Hernandez later reported that Broxton was dealing with some elbow soreness; whether that’s legitimate or a convenient excuse to not use Broxton remains to be seen, but this would be the rare case where I’d actually be thrilled if he had an arm injury, if only because it would provide a reason for his troubles.)

Regardless of how the 9th inning situation works out, I’m glad to have another alternative besides Broxton, who’s clearly not right. (Padilla and Kenley Jansen are each featured in my new Baseball Prospectus piece on relievers, which I was writing yesterday when all the Dodger fun went down.) Still, I’d caution against heaping too much praise on Padilla just yet; while he was able to smoothly get through the inning, he was also helped by three defensive plays that ranged from good to outstanding, support Broxton hasn’t always received. Padilla’s struck out just one of the eleven batters he’s faced, and while I’ll chalk that up to his quick return from arm surgery, he’s not quite there yet either.

But the fun hardly stopped there, of course. Hours later Frank McCourt was in New York, just three blocks from where I sit, giving a press conference on how MLB had wronged him. I won’t recap the play-by-play of the proceedings here – Tony Jackson, Jon Weisman, and Ramona Shelburne have all done so expertly already – but if anything has become abundantly clear, it’s that McCourt just doesn’t get it. He can act contrite, accept blame, and play the victim all he wants, but he doesn’t seem to understand that everything he says he’s doing for the fans of Los Angeles, he’s really just doing for himself. If he really wanted to help the fans and the Dodgers, he’d accept what a villain he’s become and slink away – and by “slink”, I mean “sell for many, many millions more than he paid for the club with other people’s money”.

We’re not close to being done yet, though. Almost immediately after McCourt finished in New York, back in Los Angeles, new Dodger caretaker Tom Schieffer met the media for his own meet-and-greet – and struck all of the right tones about how his goal is simply to return the Dodgers to respectability. The visual overtones were hard to ignore; Schieffer in Los Angeles, riding in to save the day, while McCourt was 3,000 miles away in New York stamping his feet that he couldn’t get his way, after Bud Selig had vetoed his proposed deal with FOX.

Of course, the main problem with that it didn’t necessarily really happen that way. Just after the dueling press conferences finished, Rob Manfred, Executive VP of Labor Relations for MLB, kept the rollercoaster going by issuing a statement, which read in part:

It is unfortunate that Mr. McCourt felt it necessary to publicize the content of a private meeting. It is even more unfortunate that Mr. McCourt’s public recitation was not accurate. Most fundamental, Commissioner Selig did not ‘veto’ a proposed transaction. Rather, Mr. McCourt was clearly told that the Commissioner would make no decision on any transaction until after his investigation into the Club and its finances is complete so that he can properly evaluate all of the facts and circumstances. 

If it wasn’t clear already that MLB wants nothing further to do with McCourt, Manfred’s statement made it crystal. Even better, we’re still going this morning, as Drew McCourt, better known as one of the McCourt sons on the payroll despite questionable contributions, refuted Manfred’s opposition:

Recap of meeting with baseball was 100% accurate… Manfred’s comment not truthful… Someone ought to ask him.

In addition, McCourt’s making the media rounds, stopping by CNBC early this morning to repeat much of what he said in his press conference.

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(I particularly enjoyed CNBC slapping up a graphic showing Jamie as “co-owner” over his face while he was talking. I bet Frank will love that.) I will admit that I am hopelessly biased in this case, but there is nothing that comes off as genuine there. He continues to harp on the fact that the Dodgers have met all of their obligations without asking MLB for assistance, neglecting to mention that he had to take a loan from FOX to meet payroll. He insists that $300m of his proposed megadeal with FOX will go directly into the team, not his own debts, hoping we won’t ask what happens to all the rest of that money, of which $300m is a drop. He apologizes for taking “only” $50m out of the team (plus another $50m in a loan), as though that makes it all okay. He complains that Selig won’t speak to him and that he doesn’t understand why, as though it’s not totally obvious that Selig is concerned about a possible McCourt lawsuit and doesn’t want to provide anything actionable. He attacks MLB for moving to insert Schieffer, as though his actions didn’t lead to that in any way.

McCourt vows to fight on, saying, “Nobody gave me this property or handed it to me and nobody is going to take it away. These are my hard-earned dollars that I’ve put in my franchise, and I’ll protect my rights. I’m not going anywhere.” As ever, he’s completely out of touch. Fans want him gone. Baseball wants him gone. His ex-wife wants him gone. Even Joe Torre has gone over to baseball’s side, and while Ned Colletti would never say it, you better believe his life would be a lot easier without all of this.  

The only one who doesn’t want Frank gone is Frank himself, and he’s apparently willing to burn the team down to the ground to hang on to it.

Go away, Frank. Go. Away.