Aug 22

Andre Ethier, off (and on) the charts

Below, you can see in graphic form the ongoing power decline for Andre Ethier, discussed here last week. Charts come courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information. Note not only the reduction in balls hit over the fence but also hits to the warning track, compared with 2009.

Andre Ethier 2009 hit chart
Andre Ethier 2010 hit chart

ESPN Stats and InformationAndre Ethier 2011 hit chart

* * *

Albuquerque baseball expert Chris Jackson freelanced a feature for MiLB.com on new Dodger catching prospect Tim Federowicz.

Fair or not, catcher Tim Federowicz finds himself under some extra pressure after being traded.

Los Angeles Dodgers fans were almost uniform in their dislike of the three-team trade that sent outfield prospect Trayvon Robinson to Seattle and brought Federowicz and two pitchers to the Dodgers organization.

The stated intent by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was to acquire a catching prospect, something Los Angeles lacked in its farm system. Federowicz said he understands the frustration of Dodgers fans.

“Yeah, they gave up Trayvon — he’s a great player and now he’s in the big leagues, doing his thing up there,” Federowicz said. “That’s tough to lose.

“I guess there is a little bit of pressure to show fans what I’ve got. But I think it’ll eventually work out the way the Dodgers want it to.” …

* * *

Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles was kind enough to show sympathy for Dodger fans when Rubby De La Rosa went down for the count. Now, with the Giants verging toward tailspin, having lost 16 of 23, he might need some for himself. Or maybe time was ripe for a humbling, if you ask Brisbee. From the New York Times:

… Such minor hysteria — sarcastic or not — highlights the uncomfortable fact that, for some, the team’s faithful have come to resemble the type of smug, and yet strangely neurotic, supporters of certain big-money East Coast franchises.

“People get on me when I say this, but it’s kind of that first step toward the path of the Red Sox fan,” said Grant Brisbee, 33, the editor of The McCovey Chronicles, a Web site for Giants fans. “You get a little cocky, a little arrogant. And they say, ‘No, no, no, Giants fans aren’t like that.’ But they’re not that far away from getting that really obnoxious national fan base.” (Just like Yankees fans, Mr. Brisbee added.) …

* * *

Finally, here’s a cool video feature from ESPN Sport Science on last week’s triple play by Milwaukee against the Dodgers:

Aug 21

Weaver signs extension with Angels – how does Kershaw compare?

Jered Weaver has signed a five-year, $85 million contract extension with the Angels, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com is reporting. Here’s a comparison between Weaver and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

   
  Weaver Kershaw
Throws Right Left
Age 28 yrs., 10 mo. 23 yrs., 5 mo.
Draft 12th overall 7th overall
Year signed 2005 2006
MLB Debut 5/27/06 5/25/08
Career starts 170 109
Career ERA 3.30 3.01
Career ERA+ 129 129
Career WHIP 1.17 1.20
Career K/9 7.8 9.4
2011 starts 26 26
2011 ERA 2.10 2.60
2011 ERA+ 178 143
2011 WHIP 0.97 1.01
2001 K/9 7.6 9.8
First-year arbitration eligibility $4.265 million in 2010, after 3.75 ERA in 2009 2012
Second-year arbitration eligibility $7.37 million in 2011, after 3.01 ERA in 2010 2013
Third-year arbitration eligible * 2014
Free agent eligibility November 2012* November 2014

*Weaver’s five-year extension, which runs through 2016 (when Weaver will turn 34), covers his final year of arbitration eligibility and his first four years after free-agent eligibility.

Kershaw is ahead of Weaver’s pace, meaning he’s going to be owed more money each step of the way if he keeps up his trend of performance. If Kershaw were to sign a contract extension at the same stage of his career as Weaver, that would come in August 2013.

Aug 21

Dodgers throw three-hitter in Coors Field but lose

In its history, Colorado had only two home victories with three or fewer hits before today:

  • August 18, 1999: Rockies score four runs on three hits, beat Braves 4-1.
  • May 25, 2008: Rockies score four runs on three hits, beat Mets 4-1.

Say hi to the third:

Dodgers 3 8 1
Rockies 5 3 0

Chad Billingsley had two missions today: try to pitch deep into the game to avoid relying on a depleted Dodger bullpen, and keep the Rockies from scoring. He succeeded in the first mission and almost in the second.

After allowing a first-inning, two-run home run to Carlos Gonzalez, Billingsley retired 11 batters in a row at one point and took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Rockies had not had a hit since Gonzalez’s homer. But fighting his control late in the game, Billingsley walked Jason Giambi with one out and then gave up a second, two-run home run, this to Seth Smith.

Colorado then got its fifth run in the eighth inning without any hits at all, thanks to another Bilingsley walk, a throwing error by Dioner Navarro, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly.

Billingsley ended up being charged with five runs on three hits and five walks in 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven.

The Dodgers got the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning after would-be reliever James Loney’s fourth hit of the game (he needed a triple for the cycle). But Navarro struck out for the third time, Rod Barajas lined out as a pinch-hitter and Tony Gwynn Jr. fouled out.

Colorado ended its bizarre streak in which it had lost on 17 consecutive Sundays.

Aug 21

Loney warms up in the bullpen


Barry Gutierrez/APHe just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich.

“James Loney is running out to the bullpen to get some work in for his role as the #Dodgers emergency pitcher today,” the team tweeted this morning.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has the reason why:

The Dodgers have had four different relievers pitch on each of the last two days:

  • Scott Elbert threw 25 pitches after throwing 16 pitches Friday
  • Matt Guerrier threw 23 pitches after throwing 16 pitches Friday
  • Blake Hawksworth threw 13 pitches after throwing 12 pitches Friday
  • Mike MacDougal threw 22 pitches after throwing four pitches Friday

Factor in Javy Guerra throwing 32 pitches on Saturday, and Hong-Chih Kuo pitching in parts of two innings and the Dodgers have the makings of a thin bullpen on Sunday. The one reliever I didn’t mention was Josh Lindblom, and even he threw 25 pitches yesterday.

There are several different ways the Dodgers could make a roster move to add a pitcher to the bullpen, but anyway …

Loney, of course, pitched in high school, and many thought that would be his path to the big leagues. From the Dodger media guide:

Was a standout as a pitcher and first baseman for Lawerence E. Elkins High School in Missouri City, TX…listed as a pitcher, was ranked by Baseball America as the 46th-best prospect entering the June 2002 draft…in its draft recap, Baseball America tabbed him as the best pure hitter in the draft, as having the second-best professional debut by a high school player selected and the second-closest high school player to reaching the Major Leagues…as a prep senior, hit .509 with eight homers and 56 RBI, while on the mound, he was 9-1 with a 1.80 ERA, striking out 106 in 54.0 innings…earned utility spot on Baseball America’s High School All-America first team…his Elkins team was 30-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation…was slated to attend Baylor had he not signed with Los Angeles.

Aug 20

Dodgers fall in the woods, make little sound

It was drama in search of a stage.

In a game that would have been an instant classic if anything had been on the line, the Dodgers got back-to-back home runs in the 12th inning by a pair of would-be Nencompoops, Aaron Miles and Trent Oeltjen (the latter’s coming inside the park) – and still lost.

In the bottom of the 12th, old horse Todd Helton fouled off 10 pitches before doubling to cap a 15-round title bout with young buck Javy Guerra. That cut the Dodgers’ lead to 6-5, and Eliezer Alfonzo’s sharp grounder tied the game and left Guerra bloodied with the first blown save of his career.

Then in the 13th, two-out hits by Mark Ellis and Dexter Fowler (redeeming himself by the madcap mishap in center that led to Oeltjen’s home run) off Blake Hawksworth finished off the teetering Dodgers, giving Colorado a 7-6 victory.

A total of 41 players were used in the game, 556 pitches were thrown and 307 minutes elapsed in the Dodgers’ leave-everything-in-the-ring first extra-inning loss of the season.

I went to my first minor-league game in ages Friday night, and there was a play in the game worth mentioning here. With a runner on second base and one out, the batter hit a grounder that went right through the first baseman’s legs, Bill Buckner-style. The runner raced around third, Ray Knight-style. But the second baseman backed up the play, threw home and nailed the runner. I couldn’t help imagining what it would have been like if that had been the play that happened October 25, 1986.

But instead, it happened in the obscurity of the minors. Today’s Dodger game hit me the same way. I mean, the circumstances were totally different, but it hit me the same way as far as it being an instantly loss classic, one we’ll be talking about for 30 hours instead of 30 years.  It was a heck of a game, the Dodgers battling after their starting pitcher, Ted Lilly, struggled with and then finally succumbed to a stiff neck. Nonetheless, it’s destined for the discard pile.

Aug 20

The Walking Dread

Rod Barajas, who injured his hamstring in the Dodgers’ 8-2 victory over Colorado on Friday, is waiting to see if he can avoid the disabled list. He joins Andre Ethier (infected toe) and Casey Blake (the mind is willing, the body isn’t) on the sidelines today.

Aug 19

Scott Van Slyke’s surge should open eyes for 2012

As exciting as it’s been to see Javy Guerra, Rubby De La Rosa, Josh Lindblom and Nathan Eovaldi trip from Double-A to the majors, the missing passenger on that ride for the 2011 Dodgers has been a minor leaguer who can actually hit.

How’s this: The No. 1 active hitter in the Double-A Southern League is Dodger prospect Scott Van Slyke.

The only guy atop Van Slyke in OPS in the Southern is Paul Goldschmidt, who was called up by Arizona and now has a .353 on-base percentage and .596 slugging percentage for the Diamondbacks in his first 15 games. In Double-A, Goldschmidt was at .435 and .626.

Van Slyke, who turned 25 last month, now sits at .422 and .570 while splitting time between first base and the outfield, positions where the Dodgers look thin next year even if Jerry Sands comes through. Van Slyke has 42 doubles in 405 at-bats to go with 14 home runs, and 57 walks against 87 strikeouts.

Of late, he has accomplished the pretty feat of having two hits, three hits, four hits and five hits in his past four games, capped by a 5-for-7 performance in Thursday’s 12-11 extra-inning loss.

Van Slyke had a .907 OPS with High-A Inland Empire in 2009, then struggled a bit when he moved up to Double-A in 2010. But he has more than adjusted. He’s on the old side for his level, so we’re not looking at a future Hall of Famer, but we should at least be looking.

When I started wondering about 2012 back in May, I mentioned Van Slyke, thanks in part to his hot start but more so to the fact that I needed bodies to fill out my 2012 lineup. In other words, it wasn’t exactly with a strong belief that he would or even could actually start next year.

However, with Trayvon Robinson off to Seattle, and the Dodgers possibly having as little to spend in the offseason as they’ve had in years, Van Slyke probably needs to be taken more seriously. After all, his .992 OPS in the tougher hitting environment of Double-A is higher than Sands’ .907 OPS in cozy Triple-A, and he has a better walk-strikeout ratio as well. (He’s also better in the latter category than the otherwise hot-hitting Alex Castellanos, who came to the Dodgers in the Rafael Furcal deal and now has a .972 OPS in 2011).

Here’s the starting lineup the Dodgers will arguably take into the offseason, before any free agents (their own or from other teams) are signed or any trades are made:

A.J. Ellis, C
Scott Van Slyke, 1B
Justin Sellers, 2B
Dee Gordon, SS
Juan Uribe, 3B
Jerry Sands, LF
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF

Little has been said about Van Slyke as a prospect, but he hardly looks like the weakest hitter in that group. Even if he struggles at the outset of his major-league career, he might be worth investing some hope in.

Aug 18

Guerra preserves Dodgers’ 5-1 victory – whew


Morry Gash/APThe Dodgers could see right through Marco Estrada of Milwaukee today.

At the risk of taking Clayton Kershaw for granted, let’s bypass his latest sterling effort — eight shutout innings in the Dodgers’ 5-1 victory over Milwaukee today — and make our periodic foray into a Bullpen Usage 101. Or maybe it should just be Bullpen Usage 1.

Of course, you know the drill by now, the age-old vexation, the pure folly that is refusing to use your top relievers in a tie game in order to preserve them for a save opportunity that might never come. That’s what happened Tuesday, when the Dodgers used the 2011 version of Hong-Chih Kuo and the 21st-century version of Mike MacDougal in a 1-1 ballgame in the bottom of the ninth rather than the Javy Guerra and his scoreless streak of 11 1/3 innings.

[Aside: Kuo was taken out immediately after walking the only batter he faced, Prince Fielder, with Don Mattingly being quoted as saying that he was monitoring Kuo’s usage in an attempt to build his confidence. Now, read that sentence and tell me if you see the logic flaw there.]

Anyway, the Dodgers gave up the run they couldn’t afford to give up Tuesday and lost. Then, when they could afford to give up four runs and still win today, they brought in Guerra and his 1.57 ERA.

For weeks, Mattingly refused to identify Guerra as his closer, but now he’s become so rigid with Guerra that he doesn’t see fit to use him any differently than Jim Tracy used Eric Gagne in his Dodger heyday. And that rigidity itself is ironic, because it was Mattingly’s flexibility in using Guerra as his ninth-inning stopper — ahead of a veteran with saves and All-Star credit like MacDougal — that gave birth to Guerrarama.

That Guerra allowed a run today doesn’t change what the best odds were for the Dodgers.

Someday, managers will stop trying to explain why they think a lead in the 10th is more pressure-filled than a tie game in the ninth, and actually just do the right thing. Mattingly should seize the opportunity to be that man. To paraphrase “Say Anything”: “The world is full of guys. Be a manager.”

* * *

OK, I can’t ignore Kershaw completely.

Kershaw threw only 104 pitches in his eight innings. In the sixth, he was nursing the 1-0 lead that Rod Barajas’ 11th home run of the year provided when the Brewers put runners on first and third with one out, and MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Fielder due up.

The 23-year-old retired each batter on the first pitch to get out of the inning. To do so that economically was something of a fluke, but it sure wasn’t surprising, and it’s that kind of confidence that Kershaw is inspiring that is only adding to his legend.

Kershaw is now at a league-leading 199 strikeouts for the season and five wins away from 20, the latter as cool as it is meaningless. Twenty-three years old.

Aug 18

NL Cy Young race pits Clayton Kershaw vs. three-headed Phillies monster


Matt Kartozian/US PresswireClayton Kershaw has approximately eight starts remaining to burnish his Cy Young chances.

As the sub-.500 Dodgers go for their unlikely and incongruous double play – Matt Kemp for National League Most Valuable Player, Clayton Kershaw for NL Cy Young – you’ll find that Kershaw is the clear leader among pitchers from non-contending teams.

Kershaw has a 2.72 ERA, an NL-best 9.89 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.9 wins over replacement, according to Fangraphs. With a quarter of the season remaining, none of the other pitchers from the Losers Division match up. In ERA, the only challenger is Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto (1.87), who has thrown nearly 50 fewer innings. Florida’s Anibal Sanchez has a strikeout rate of 9.33, but his ERA is 3.97. And the next best in WAR from a losing team, 3.6 by Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann (3.23 ERA), is more than 25% lower than Kershaw’s. If you look at other stats, you’ll find similar lack of competition.

But there are stout rivals for Kershaw among contending teams:

  • Roy Halladay. We discussed Halladay as a leading MVP candidate, so naturally he belongs atop this list. Halladay has everything, from Old School wins (15, tied for the league lead) to New School WAR (6.7). The latter leads the NL by a wide margin. Given Philadelphia’s dominance of the league, Halladay is the logical favorite if you’re handicapping this race.
  • Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels. There’s a pretty strong possibility that voters could place Phillies first, second and third on their NL Cy Young ballots. That depends in part on the health of Hamels, who just missed one start because of shoulder inflammation. But if Hamels comes back, he will be all but neck-and-neck with Lee: 2.62 ERA vs. 2.82, 8.11 K/9 vs. 9.25, 5.0 WAR vs. 4.9.
  • Tim Lincecum. It’s a bit easier to sell the idea that Lincecum is no longer the best pitcher in the NL West, but then again, maybe he is. He has a small edge on Kershaw in ERA and park-adjusted ERA; Kershaw’s winning on strikeout rate and WAR. I feel like I’m hearing Kershaw’s name mentioned with more vigor in the Cy Young conversation than Lincecum’s, but big September performances by the Giant righty could reverse that.
  • Ian Kennedy. Like Arizona in the pennant chase and Justin Upton in the MVP race, Kennedy is coming from behind with vigor (13-2, 2.74 ERA since April 25). With Atlanta’s Jair Jurrjens sadly hitting the skids (29 innings, 6.52 ERA since the All-Star Break), one hurdle fell out of Kennedy’s way. It seems impossible to think that he could top all the Phillies, but he’s positioned himself to be in the conversation and steal some votes from Kershaw, especially from those who value wins (he’s tied with Halladay with 15) over WAR (3.2).
  • John Axford/Craig Kimbrel. The closers for the Brewers and Braves have had fine seasons. Axford has struck out 11.0 per nine innings with a 2.31 ERA (he’s inherited only one runner all year), while Kimbrel has a 1.81 ERA and a massive 14.2 K/9 (four inherited runners, all stranded). But the starting pitching alternatives are too strong.

The list of rivals for Kershaw isn’t long: As of now, it’s just three Phillies and Lincecum, with Kennedy and Cueto lurking. But while Kemp might only need to maintain an edge in the NL MVP field – a challenge in its own right – Kershaw will have make up statistical ground on at least Halladay, while also overcoming the impression that his performance didn’t come in high-stakes contests or as challenging a circumstance (pitchers’ park, anyone?).

Kershaw is close enough that a down-the-stretch surge could put him in Trophy Town, but no matter what, he’ll need some dominoes to fall his way.

Aug 17

Eovaldi is u-less but hardly useless

Even though Nathan Eovaldi surrendered the 0-0 tie with his final pitch in the sixth inning of tonight’s 3-1 Dodger loss to Milwaukee, he still has a space among this season’s much-needed pleasant surprises.

Eovaldi gets himself in trouble, walking nine in 17 innings so far, but his 2.12 ERA has been fun nonetheless. As has Josh Lindblom (despite his three bases worth of wild pitches tonight, thanks in no small part to the sloppy catching of Dioner Navarro). As have Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra, and Rubby De La Rosa and Dee Gordon before they got hurt, and Jerry Sands before he was sent back to Albuquerque. Not to mention a small dose of Aaron Miles and Juan Rivera, the strikeout tear of Kenley Jansen, the stately poise of Hiroki Kuroda and, of course, the explosions of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Heck, let’s even throw Tony Gwynn Jr.’s highly unexpected and possibly unauthorized home run tonight into the mix.

What’s your favorite happy surprise of the 2011 Dodger season? If you prefer, pick two, to match the number of runs the Dodgers scored in their three games against the Brewers.

Aug 17

Why James Loney might still have a future … somewhere

Casey Kotchman:

  • .280 on-base percentage, .336 slugging percentage, 71 OPS+ with Seattle in 2010.
  • .393 on-base percentage, .471 slugging percentage, 147 OPS+ with Tampa Bay in 2011.

The key: After being cut loose by the Mariners in November, Kotchman signed a 2011 contract with the Rays for $750,000.

Aug 17

Andre Ethier’s long-ball drought belies consistency elsewhere


Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireAndre Ethier’s slugging percentage has fallen from .493 in 2010 to .428 this season.

Andre Ethier’s OPS has dropped below .800 for the first time since April 3. He has 10 home runs this season and one in his past 107 at-bats.  All this is feeding some simmering frustration about his 2011 performance and even making me wonder to myself ever so briefly whether he might be on a downward, James Loney-like trajectory.

And then, you take a step back and see that in 2011, Ethier has …

  • a .294 batting average that is .002 higher than last year’s and .003 higher than his career average.
  • a .367 on-base percentage that is .003 higher than both his 2010 and career averages.
  • 5.71 doubles per 100 plate appearances, compared with 5.64 in 2010 and 5.84 in his career.

Most of Ethier’s game is the same as it ever was. Except for this one thing.

  • Ethier has 2.04 home runs per 100 plate appearances, compared with 3.93 in 2010, 4.53 in 2009 and 3.27 for his career.

I’ll say up front that I don’t know the reason for this — though I still don’t believe it has anything to do with his early season hitting streak. Ethier was showing little home-run power even before it really got going, and has had plenty of time to self-correct since it ended on May 7. That being said, Fangraphs shows that Ethier’s line-drive and ground-ball rates have risen to near-career-high levels, while his fly-ball rate is the lowest it has ever been.

Just another observation in passing — Ethier seems to be having particular trouble with sliders this year.

But the kicker is this: According to Fangraphs, Ethier has been more valuable this year than he was in 2010 or 2009, thanks to what the site reports as a dramatic improvement in his fielding. I know numerous people take advance fielding metrics with a grain of salt — thanks in part to wild fluctuations like these — but it’s something to consider.

Aug 16

August 16 game chat

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors provided the fun conversation topic of the day, suggesting that the Cubs might consider trading troubled starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano — and cash — for woebegone Dodger infielder Juan Uribe.

Of course, anytime Milton Bradley’s name comes up for comparison’s sake, many people will have strong feelings. Conversely, my initial response was to be intrigued by the possibility of Zambrano (.848 OPS this season) playing first base and batting sixth, but Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness weighed things a bit more carefully.

Elsewhere, Steve Dilbeck of the Times points out that the three leading National League Manager of the Year candidates — Arizona’s Kirk Gibson, Milwaukee’s Ron Roenicke and Philadelphia’s Charlie Manuel — are all ex-Dodgers.