Should the Dodgers Be Looking For A Lefty Bullpen Arm?

Ponder this: it’s the first week of January, yet there may not be a single pitching spot up for grabs when camp starts in roughly six weeks. While the offensive side may see mild competition at backup catcher and the possible addition of a low-cost righty outfielder (and as I have been for months, I’m still on board the Lastings Milledge train), the pitching staff seems to be entirely set, barring any unexpected trades.

The rotation is obvious, as Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, and Jon Garland will head up one of the more solid starting groups in the game. Then, assuming the Dodgers carry seven relievers – as they almost always do – it seems pretty obvious that the seven are going to be Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Kenley Jansen, Vicente Padilla, Matt Guerrier, Ronald Belisario, & Blake Hawksworth. You can quibble about Belisario and Hawksworth, I suppose, but each are out of options and I doubt either is exposed to waivers, particularly with Belisario reportedly throwing well in winter ball. Behind them, there’s familiar names like Travis Schlichting, Jon Link, and Ramon Troncoso in the mix as well, ready to start at ABQ and come up when depth is needed. It’s a solid group.

Yet the question must be asked: should the Dodgers try to ensure that there’s another lefty in the bullpen alongside Kuo? If so, who?

Kuo may be the only southpaw in that group, but he’s of course hardly your typical lefty reliever. He may well end up with part of the closer’s job again, and since he’s dominant against all batters there’s no need to restrict him to just lefties anyway. Now, you don’t have to have a second lefty, but since Kuo generally doesn’t pitch on back-to-back days and may be held back for the 9th inning anyway, there’s a real risk that the team would almost never have a real situational lefty available for big spots in the 7th and 8th innings.

Unless you’ve really got your heart set on Dana Eveland, the only viable internal candidate is Scott Elbert, who has begun to make the transition from starter to reliever. Elbert was impressive in the AFL, his power stuff (10.4 K/9 in the minors) would play well in the bullpen, and I’d love to see the longtime prospect finally break through. Elbert comes with obvious risk, of course; not only was there the well-known leave of absence that cost him much of last season, but until he harnesses his control (5.0 BB/9 in the minors) relying on him in late-inning situations may be dicey. Considering that he didn’t pitch in the minors last year after June, starting him off back at ABQ may not be the worst idea in the world.

If you’re willing to look outside the organization, there’s several veteran options who may come at a reasonable cost – and no, I’m not talking about Brian Fuentes, who is overrated and reportedly wants a three-year deal. There’s a few familiar names out there, including several former Dodgers. Let’s take a look at who’s out there with their 2011 ages, 2010 K/BB stats, and 2010 performance against lefties…

Will Ohman, 33 (9.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, .636 OPS vs. LHB)
Ohman’s 2009 in Dodger blue was nothing less than an injury-filled disaster, as he pitched just 12.1 terrible innings before being non-tendered. Yet Ohman had several successful seasons before that and bounced back with Baltimore and Florida last year, starting his year with 25 straight games without being charged with a run. Though his walk rate was certainly higher than you’d like, he’s still getting lefty hitters out; his 2010 OPS is nearly identical to his career mark of .646.

Joe Beimel, 34 (4.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, .653 OPS vs LHB)
Beimel was something of a fan favorite in LA during his three seasons as a Dodger (2006-08), and was vocal in his preference to stay with the team. He had to wait until March of 2009 to sign with Washington, and made it only until July before being traded to Colorado, where he’s been ever since. Though he was successful against lefties in 2010, it was significantly lower than his career mark of .720, and the declining K rate is a concern.

Dennys Reyes, 34 (5.9 K/9, 5.0 BB/9, .862 OPS vs LHB)
Yep, that’s the same Dennys Reyes who was signed as an amateur by the Dodgers in 1993 and pitched in 25 MLB games before being included in the horrendous “Paul Konerko for Jeff Shaw” debacle of 1998. Though the loss of Konerko is obviously the most egregious, Reyes has made a career for himself as well, pitching in over 600 games for 9 teams since leaving LA. Reyes very nearly signed a $1.1m deal with the Phillies last month before it fell through, so we know what his price range is. That awful line against LHB last year may be an aberration, since he’s been very good against them over his career (.669), yet it’s not promising, and he fell apart in the second half last year after a good start.

Ron Mahay, 40 (6.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, .520 OPS vs LHB)
How old is Ron Mahay? He tried to make it as an outfielder in the Boston system in the early 90s, briefly appearing as a replacement player in 1995, before converting to pitching and getting back to the bigs several years later. Despite his age, Mahay was death on lefties in 2010. That’s not a rate he’s managed for his entire career, but he’s still sub-.700 against them over 14 seasons, and he did strike out three times as many as he walked last year.

Randy Flores, 35 (5.8 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, .888 OPS vs LHB)
Yep, .888. I almost didn’t include him, but figured I might as well just to be complete, and it is at least down to .780 for his career. Still, Flores doesn’t seem like the right kind of fit here.

So does anyone here interest you? Reyes and Flores are non-starters for me, and though Beimel was fun to have around, his performance has been decent at best. I’ve always been a big Ohman fan – yes, I’ll admit that part of that is because he’s perhaps the funniest guy in the league – though I wonder if his poor 2009 experience has soured the relationship on both sides. That leaves Mahay, who signed just a minor-league deal last season and was excellent.

Of course, if you do sign any of these guys to a major league contract, then one of the current seven has to go. Perhaps that’s the long-rumored trade of Broxton for an expensive left fielder. (Unlikely.) Or perhaps they want Jansen to gain more experience in the minors. (Very unlikely.) Maybe “being traded for Ryan Theriot” isn’t enough to guarantee Hawksworth a spot. (Possible.) Or maybe Belisario takes a wrong turn on the way to Arizona and somehow ends up in Siberia. (Even odds.)

So your choices are:

1) Go with just one lefty in the bullpen.
2) Add Elbert, find a way to dump someone else.
3) Add one of the free agents, find a way to dump someone else.

Me? If it’s cheap – less than $1m, or even better a minor-league deal – I’d try to get Mahay and see if Hawksworth slips through waivers. If not, then let Elbert and Hawksworth battle it out in camp.

*****

I, for one, will be so happy when Adrian Beltre finally signs somewhere so Dodger fans can stop hoping that he’s coming back. Beltre’s a fine player, but he’s not a superstar, and he wants superstar money. Not that signing him for 3B and pushing Blake to LF wouldn’t be fun and all, but the Dodgers have to be at or near their payroll limit, and I just can’t see how fitting Beltre in would work – especially when you don’t know if you’re getting awesome Beltre (2004, 2010), or average-to-slightly-above Beltre (most other years).

******

I should have mentioned this the other day when I noted that Ivan DeJesus didn’t make John Sickels’ top 20 Dodger prospect list, and that I didn’t align with people who are hoping that he’d claim the 2B job in camp, thus pushing Juan Uribe to 3B and Blake to LF. The Dodgers recently announced the roster for their offseason development camp, which starts later this week in LA and features some of the brightest prospects in the system, like Jerry Sands, Dee Gordon, Trayvon Robinson, Rubby de la Rosa, and Chris Withrow. Seven attendees of last year’s camp saw big league time in 2010 – Carlos Monasterios, John Ely, Jon Link, Travis Schlichting, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Ellis and Russell Mitchell.

Ken Gurnick describes it as…

This will be the fourth year of the developmental minicamp, which is designed to take the best and brightest of the farm system, accelerate their Major League arrival and aid acclimation to what they will encounter when they get there.

Yet DeJesus wasn’t invited. Nor was he given a token call-up last September, like Mitchell and several others were. It’s not that I don’t like DeJesus - far from it – it’s just that all the signs seem to be pointing in the wrong direction for him, and that he won’t be the second baseman in 2011. We’ll learn more about how he’s percieved when Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus prospect expert, publishes his Dodger system review on Tuesday.

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Finally! This is the last player review segment of the year, and while I won’t pretend this one is the most interesting grouping of players you’ll read about all year, this whole series served its purpose. It allowed me to get some thoughts down on each player this year, and almost as importantly, helped fill some space between the end of the season and the start of the Hot Stove.

85toppscorywadeCory Wade (F)
(2-3, 5.53, 1.373 WHIP)

See Cory Wade in his picture over there? He looks sad. Sure, that’s a picture from 2008 (you can tell because of the 50th anniversary patch on his right arm), but maybe he just looks sad because he knows that his 2009 will in no way reflect his excellent 2008.

Really, Wade’s 2009 stands as glaring proof of two truisms: 1) that except for the best of the best, reliever performances are incredibly volatile year-to-year, and 2) Joe Torre tends to crush his new favorite toy like he’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Thus, Wade’s problems were pretty clear this year. He couldn’t stay healthy (two trips to the DL for a right shoulder that bothered him even in 2008) and he wasn’t very good even when he was available (huge increases in BB/9 and WHIP, huge decrease in K/9). That being the case, part of his problems is that he was never as good as he seemed in 2008 – a .227 BABIP is completely unsustainable and was a large part of why the ERA that looked so good (2.27) was nowhere near what FIP said he should have been (3.78). This year, his luck completely changed, since the huge increase in BABIP to .294 helped turn an already lousy FIP (4.40) into a much worse ERA (5.57).

You have to wonder how much of the blame for his injuries should be heaped on Torre, because we tend to forget how much Wade was worked in 2008. Even in April, Kensai and I were both ringing the bell on this, as I said at the time

Wade’s pitched in four games this season, and has been great in three of them (three scoreless outings of an inning apiece, allowing two hits) and awful in one (three hits and two runs in 1/3 of an inning). The poor outing was the only one that came on a back-to-back appearance, and since this is apparently the same shoulder issue that bothered him last season and in spring, you have to wonder: should we be treating him as the right-handed Hong-Chih Kuo? I’d rather live with an effective Wade who’s not available as often as everyone else than no Wade at all. Some guys just aren’t built for the constant workload, and you have to wonder if Wade falls under that category.

Wade, of course, never did come close to regaining his form for the rest of the year, and even worse, was horrible in the minors – allowing 17 ER in 22.2 AAA innings. He’ll still just be 26 when Opening Day comes, so his time has hardly passed. But he’ll likely have to prove his health in the minors again before he gets another shot at what looks to be a pretty loaded big league bullpen crew.

85toppsbrentleachBrent Leach (?)
(2-0, 5.75, 1.377)

Brent Leach is a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 38 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball.

Okay, I was tempted to just go with the Wikipedia-esque description and leave it at that, because I seriously have no recollection of Brent Leach doing anything meaningful for the Dodgers this year. Did he really get into 38 games? Jesus. My top memory of Leach is mainly the firestorm Kensai unwittingly set off by discussing his wife’s hilarious blog (which I can’t seem to find the link to anymore).

As for his pitching, he got the call from Chattanooga because he was dominating down there (1 ER and 17 K in 13 IP). Before you get too excited about that, remember that this was AA and he turns 27, well, today. (Happy Birthday!) Once he got to the bigs the strikeout rate was nice (8.4/9) but the homer rate much less so (1.3/9) and the walk rate was pretty bad (5.31/9).

Actually, he looks to have had control issues his entire career – only in 2008, as a 25-year-old in High-A ball, has he ever really been able to keep it below a walk every other inning. Still, some lefties are known to develop late, and he appears to have the stuff to miss bats, so if he can ever get a handle on that control, he might actually have a future in a bullpen to be named later.

85toppswillohmanWill Ohman (F)
(1-0, 5.84, 1.622 WHIP)

Oh, Will Ohman. I had such high hopes for you. I actually had first brought him up way back in October 2008, before any rumors had attached him to the Dodgers, in my 2009 plan:

Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy).

So when he became another victim of the lousy free agent market and signed with the Dodgers late in spring training, I was thrilled (and had only mentioned it about eleven times in March during the whole song-and-dance).

But there were worries from the beginning. Having missed most of spring training, Ohman was behind in his conditioning and was hit hard almost immediately. In 21 games over the first two months, he got shelled, somehow allowing a .609 SLG and .979 OPS in that time. On May 29, he went on the DL with a sore shoulder, experienced pain in his elbow during the rehab, and finally ended up having shoulder surgery in September. So clearly, that didn’t work out, and his 2010 option was obviously declined.

Still, I’m sad it didn’t work out. He had high socks, which rule in their own right, but he was also one of the funniest players the Dodgers have ever had. You know it’s good when sportswriters are breaking their own rules by cheering for him, but also check out these two videos:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4kkmlh92LA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZWjdDTjtXw]

So long, Will.

85toppsclaudiovargasClaudio Vargas (C)
(0-0, 1.64, 1.000 WHIP)

Sometimes you sign a mediocre veteran to a minimum salary contract, and you hope for the next Chan Ho Park or Jeff Weaver.  Sometimes you get a nice surprise like that… and sometimes you get a guy who gets this written about him in spring training

I had a whole section on Claudio Vargas written out, mostly about how unlike Milton, Estes, and Weaver, he was given a major-league contract rather than just a spring training invite. But all that’s out the window after Monday, because Claudio Vargas has committed the unthinkable: he allowed a home run to our favorite fat sack of crap, Andruw Jones. That alone should disqualify him – and if it doesn’t, the three other homers he’s allowed in just 8.1 innings so far ought to. Odds: Andruw Jones’ weight times a hundred-to-1

…before being put on the 60-day DL with arm troubles, missing the first three months of the season. So to say Claudio Vargas was an afterthought is putting it lightly.

But then something crazy happened; when Vargas returned in July, he was good. Really good. In 11 innings over 8 relief outings, he allowed just 2 ER, struck out 10, and held opponents to a puny .184/.279/.263 (.542 OPS) line. Sure, it was only 11 innings, and nothing in his history suggested he could keep that up – I get that. Still, with the depleted Dodger staff at the time, any contributions were welcome.

So what happened? The Dodgers traded him for a 29-year-old backup catcher hitting .249 on Milwaukee’s AA team, Vinny Rottino. This didn’t make sense to me at the time

Believe it or not, Vargas has actually been pretty good for the Dodgers since coming off the DL. 11 innings isn’t much of a sample size, but he’s allowed only 11 baserunners and 2 runs in that time, with a nice 10/4 K/BB ratio. I’m hardly crushed that he’s gone, but did we really need Vinny Rottino? He’s 29 with all of 18 MLB games under his belt, and he’s so highly thought of that he’s being sent to AA. You almost feel bad for the guy, being a Wisconsin native and all, now being shipped out to Chattanooga.

No, what this feels like is a way to clear out a roster spot for George Sherrill, but there were better ways to do that. DFA Jason Schmidt, for one, and no, I don’t care that he’s tonight’s starter. Send down James McDonald or Scott Elbert, if you must, because you know that either one would be right back up in a week.

Vargas wasn’t great, but he was at least useful, while Vinny Rottino looks unlikely to ever play a single game as a Dodger. I hate to act as though I’m all worked up over losing Claudio Vargas, of all people, but this move just makes no sense at all.

…and it doesn’t make any more sense now. Vargas went to Milwaukee and continued to excel (1.78 ERA, .530 OPS against), Rottino went to Chattanooga, never to be heard from, and I still can’t find a good reason for any of it.

85toppstravisschlichtingTravis Schlichting (inc.)
(0-0, 3.38, 2.250 WHIP)

Signs that your newest reliever may not have been a top prospect: when MSTI’s first mention of him was pointing out that his Wikipedia page showed him as a third baseman for the Devil Rays. (Actually, it still does. Doesn’t anyone want to go fix that?)

Schlichting actually had a pretty nice minor league season (in 29.1 IP across 3 levels, he allowed just 3 earned runs), but the less said about his major league stint the better. He got into 2 June games, managing to walk 5 and allow a Ryan Howard homer in first major league at-bat. So, yikes.

Still, those minor league numbers are nice, and it’s important to remember that he’s only been a pitcher since 2007, having turned himself around from being a failed third baseman. He’ll likely start 2010 in the minors, but don’t be surprised to see him back in the bigs – and maybe even do well enough to get himself a real Wikipedia picture.

——-

So that’s it! We’re done with reviews. I suppose I should probably write something up for Joe Torre as well, and I probably will at some point.  Damn it, why isn’t there VORM for managers?

Randy Wolf’s Math Lesson

Introductory press conference, December 2006:

wolf41.jpg2007 season:

wolf52.jpg

2009, April – July:

wolf21.jpg2009, July:

wolf43.jpgWhat’s the deal, exactly?

Randy Wolf has switched his uniform number to #43 as he seeks to improve his record to 4-3. Wolf wore #43 while with the Phillies before being issued #41 at his introductory news conference when he signed with the Dodgers. By Spring Training, he was #52 for his first season with Los Angeles. Last season, he wore #25 with the Padres and #39 with the Astros before starting this year as #21.

So, he’s now #43 so he can get up to 4-3. As I write this, the Dodgers are up 6-1 in the 3rd, so it’s looking pretty likely. Does that mean next week we can look forward to #53? If at some point he’s, say, 10-5, can we look forward to him wearing #115? Because, I’m not going to lie – that’d be pretty awesome.  

More importantly, how does Will Ohman feel about all this?

ohmangrumpy.jpg
Poor Will. He looks sad.

From 12 Pitchers to 3 Catchers

From DodgerThoughts:

After tonight’s game, the Dodgers placed Will Ohman on the disabled list, according to Dodgers  broadcaster Charley Steiner (via Dodger Thoughts commenter Dave60). The team called up catcher A.J. Ellis, moving back to a 12-man pitching staff and freeing Brad Ausmus to pinch-hit more frequently.

87toppsajellis.jpgWell, then. Ellis is likely only up for a week or so until Hiroki Kuroda’s ready to return from the DL, so this isn’t really a huge deal either way. I’m just not quite sure I understand why a team with only one backup outfielder and two backup infielders is investing in a third catcher. Ellis is doing nicely at Albuquerque (.819 OPS), but he’s hardly the superstar of the club. Infielders Blake DeWitt (.908) and Hector Luna (1.086!!), along with outfielder Dee Brown (1.020) and 1B/3B/OF Mitch Jones (.977, 15 HR) have all been productive. (Hmm, I sense that Jones is going to be this year’s Terry Tiffee).

Granted, Ausmus is hitting much better than we’d thought (which should tell you something when even that is just a 106 OPS+), but I just don’t see how having him available to pinch hit is better than having one of the aforementioned guys who are both swinging the bat well in AAA and offer positional flexibility that this team could probably use.

On the other hand, when this is the biggest thing we have to complain about – and it’s not really even a complaint, as much as an observation – you know things are going fantastically.

As for Ohman, you’re almost glad to see that something’s wrong because he’s been lousy lately. Rotoworld says it’s a “sore left shoulder”, but nothing too serious, which is basically doublespeak for “you’ve been bad, go take a break, we’ll make something up.” He better turn it around upon his return, if only because he’s the funniest guy on the team, by far.

Hooray For Recessions!

Just in, the Dodgers have signed reliever Will Ohman, which is something we’ve been hoping for for months around here. But that’s not the eye-catching part here, because look at this detail from the official release:

The Los Angeles Dodgers announced today that they have signed left-handed pitcher Will Ohman to a one-year minor league contract with Major League terms, including a club option for 2010.

A minor-league deal?! With a club option?! Holy hell, that price drop might even be more shocking than Orlando Hudson’s. Man, did Ohman’s agent screw this up or what? And yes, I was thinking that even before I read this quote from an anonymous AL talent evaluator in Buster Olney’s blog today:

“No. 2: What precisely was Will Ohman‘s agent thinking? He has said for a month that he had $1 million-plus on the table and just wanted performance bonuses to get to $2.50 million. Now, it is a week before Opening Day and the word out from his tryout for the Dodgers is that he isn’t close to ready to go. He should have just given up the ghost for ’09 and signed two weeks ago like Beimel.

Can’t argue that – this is simply a brutal downturn for Ohman. But hey, his loss is our gain, because adding a solid veteran arm to a bullpen that sorely needed is a huge win.

On another note, anyone over at Rotoworld want to wake up and pay attention?

vargasrotoworld.jpgEric Milton… or Eric Stults… or…