May 28

A tangible reason for the Dodgers’ success: defense

The Dodgers lead the majors this year in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to Fangraphs (via Baseball Musings), by a significant margin. Tony Gwynn Jr., Mark Ellis and James Loney lead the contributions.

* * *

At my Variety blog The Vote, I have a post about Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” that, if you’ve seen the episode, you might find worth your time.

Apr 20

Hairston’s unbelievable defensive hot streak

© Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp has reached base four times in seven innings tonight, including his eighth home run with a runner on in the first inning, and Andre Ethier singled home a run in the third, but how incredible has Jerry Hairston Jr. been at third base tonight and in the past three games?

Fans of defense, click and enjoy.

Wednesday, seventh inning: Diving backhand catch of Jonathan Lucroy liner with none out, score tied 2-2.

Thursday, eighth inning: With runners at second and third (tying run at third base), diving stop and throw from his knees to retire Alex Gonzalez.

Thursday, ninth inning: Barehand pick of Travis Ishikawa bunt, throwing him out with the Dodgers leading by one run.

Tonight, third inning: Runs down hard-hit ball off his glove, slide-stops and fires to second base to nail Jose Altve.

Tonight, fifth inning: With bases loaded in a two-run game, corrals grounder behind third base and dives at the bag to tag out J.D. Martinez.

Update: The Dodgers wasted some scoring opportunities, letting the Astros stay close, but still eked out a 3-1 victory. Ted Lilly walked six in six innings but allowed just the one run, while Josh Lindblom, Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra combined to strike out six in their three shutout innings.

Feb 27

The defensive potential of Mark Ellis

If the Dodgers replaced baseball’s 27th-best second baseman offensively with the ninth-best, a lot of us would be doing cartwheels. At least three cartwheels, maybe seven.

By that token, maybe we should be doing at least two cartwheels – and as many as 11 – over the fact that, according to David Pinto of Baseball Musings, the Dodgers are replacing baseball’s 27th-best second baseman defensively with the ninth best. He’s in the decline phase of his career, but Mark Ellis should still be a considerable improvement over Jamey Carroll (the aforementioned No. 27), and Aaron Miles, who combined to take 75 percent of the Dodgers’ innings at second base last year.

Wrote Ken Arneson, who has watched Ellis play with Oakland, on Twitter: “Good to make note of the numbers, because Ellis’s defense is as invisible as a mistake-free umpire.”

Elsewhere …

  • © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

    Today in Jon SooHoo: Dee Gordon is off to the races.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times chronicles the maturation of Matt Kemp.
  • Former Dodger reliever Danys Baez is retiring, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (via MLB Trade Rumors). From 2006, the year the Dodgers acquired him and Lance Carter from Tampa Bay for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany, Baez had a 5.16 ERA (85 ERA+) in 265 1/3 innings with 154 strikeouts and 396 baserunners allowed. And one balk. Jackson in that time has pitched 1,003 2/3 innings with a 4.38 ERA (99 ERA+), 753 strikeouts and 1,495 baserunners allowed. And five balks.
  • Here’s an interesting story from my Variety colleague Stuart Levine about how the move of “Downton Abbey” and “Luther” from the Emmy miniseries to the Emmy drama category could presage the Emmys nominating 10 programs for top drama in 2013.
  • Meanwhile, I bid farewell to the Oscars with a Variety On the Air blog post calling for Academy to understand, once and for all, that they’re making a TV show, rather than filming a stage show. And that starts with the selection of their next host.
Nov 01

Gold Gloves: Kershaw, Kemp, Ethier all win

I hoped Clayton Kershaw would win a National League Gold Glove award, though I wasn’t counting on it. As for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, I didn’t even hope.

But all three of them won the prizes in the first annual Rawlings Gold Glove award show broadcast by ESPN – a record haul in one year for the franchise.

And the funny thing is, if there was any Dodger I would have picked for a Gold Glove, it would have been James Loney. But he got shut out. Yep – Andre Ethier won a Gold Glove, and James Loney did not. In any case, congrats to the winners, and don’t think too hard about the selection process.

Oct 31

Kershaw, Kuroda, Loney, Kemp and Ethier are Gold Glove award finalists

If the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards have publicized the three finalists for each position before, I don’t remember it. But thanks to this announcement of ESPN2′s first-ever broadcast of the “Rawlings Gold Glove Awards Show” on November 1, I can now tell you the following:

  • Of the three finalists for the National League pitcher Gold Glove, two are Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw (who all season has seemed like a strong candidate to win) and Hiroki Kuroda.
  • The Dodgers have three other finalists, but only one won’t completely surprise you and another might shock you. There’s James Loney at first base, Matt Kemp in center field and Andre Ethier in right field.

The Gold Glove Awards didn’t used to specify outfield positions, which meant in a given year three center fielders in each league could win the honor. But that has changed, opening the door for Kemp (advanced defensive stats be damned) and Ethier (who actually performs surprisingly well in the stats, according to Fangraphs). In any case, scanning the full list of nominations, I don’t think they have this thing quite down to a science.

Ultimately, I’d be surprised if any Dodger besides Kershaw and Loney won.

Feb 21

You get a line, I’ll get a pole, my honey …


Morry Gash/APXavier Paul takes his swings at Camelback Ranch today.

Maury Wills sings “Crawdad Hole.” Thank you, Blue Heaven.

Elsewhere …

  • One of the lesser-known but valuable defensive statistical tools is PMR (Probabilistic Model of Range), by David Pinto of Baseball Musings. Today, he published shortstop data for the period 2006-10. The Dodgers are No. 6 out of 30 teams at the position, thanks mostly to Rafael Furcal, who is seventh-best in baseball over that stretch – fourth among those who have seen at least 10,000 balls in play in their zone.
  • Andre Ethier wants to be a more uplifting leader for the Dodgers this year, he tells Dylan Hernandez of the Times. Don Mattingly suggested a role model for Ethier: Derek Jeter.
  • It just keeps getting worse for Scott Podsednik. Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star reports that “Podsednik suffered a re-aggravation of foot injury he first came down with in 2010, and will not be immediately available to open spring training with the team.” Jays manager John Farrell said the ex-Dodger, whose unguaranteed contract gives him $1 million for making the team, is battling plantar fasciitis again.
  • I’ve been meaning to highlight this for a long time but kept forgetting: Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. went to the trouble of ranking and providing detailed capsules of the Dodgers’ top 200 minor-league prospects. Here’s your path to the trove.
  • A 7-foot-1 pitching prospect? You be the judge: Bill Plunkett of the Register has a fun feature on the Angels’ 85-inch minor leaguer, Loek Van Mil.
  • Dee Gordon, interviewed by Josh Jackson for MLB.com, says he isn’t expecting Stephen King to write “The Girl Who Loved Dee Gordon.”
  • ESPN.com has an entire page dedicated to 6-foot-2 high school basketball player Diamond DeShields, daugher of Delino and class of 2013.
Dec 17

I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I’m saying it: Tony Gwynn Jr. should start


Denis Poroy/AP
Tony Gwynn Jr.

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of no frontline left fielder, with yea but another candidate abandoning us to  aimless wanderings,  my thoughts seek a place to turn.

I believe that Xavier Paul, Jay Gibbons and Jamie Hoffmann can make positive contributions, but as I started to make a case for each of them in left field, I couldn’t finish the job. The offensive ceilings for Paul and Hoffmann just seem too low, and the defensive limitations of Gibbons too pronounced. I’m content to see them get a chance, but I just don’t have confidence it would go all that well.

The problem with turning to a 35-year-old Scott Podsednik is that his defense is pretty poor itself. Podsednik would probably post a better on-base percentage than any in-house Dodger candidate, but not so much better that he’d be worth more millions spent by Ned Colletti.

Minor-leaguers Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson? Despite their relative promise, only once in five seasons has Ned Colletti promoted a AA player into a major-league starting role in April, and that happened to Blake DeWitt only because injuries had left Chin-Lung Hu and Ramon Martinez as the only alternatives.  Paul, Hoffmann and Gibbons don’t fall to that level. And I’m not convinced that Colletti should break that policy right now, because unlike with Paul and Hoffmann, I imagine Sands and Robinson still have more to learn in the minors.

There’s a guy out there who would represent a pretty nice part-time addition to the roster, by the name of Manny Ramirez, but I know the Dodgers don’t want to go down that road.

That doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities, but there really isn’t much else to talk about in terms of difference-makers. And that’s why, more and more, I find myself ready to throw my lot with Tony Gwynn Jr. — if, as was discussed last week, he plays center field.

Of everyone discussed here, Gwynn offers the most elite skill, if not the only one — his defense.  He’s something of the polar opposite of Ramirez, and it seems to me that he is the one person left in the conversation who can truly transform the Dodger lineup. By placing him in center and moving Matt Kemp to right field and Andre Ethier to left, Gwynn would turn the Dodger outfield defense from a weakness to a strength.

At a minimum, it would be a low-risk way to buy some time until Sands or Robinson proves more ready to make the leap to the majors, possibly at midseason. Or, until the Dodgers decide to make their annual midseason trade.

I don’t think Colletti or Don Mattingly would be opposed to asking Kemp or Ethier to switch positions. Would either player rebel? Perhaps, although if they are that selfish, we’ve got other problems.

Here’s a Dodger lineup with Gwynn in center:

Rafael Furcal, SS
James Loney, 1B
Andre Ethier, LF
Matt Kemp, RF
Juan Uribe, 2B
Casey Blake, 3B
Rod Barajas, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF

Offensively, it’s shaky, but it’s not as if any of the other outfield options would save the day. But defensively, there’s actually hope.

I’ve looked at the Dodgers’ outfield dilemma many different ways — coming at the problem, in fact, with a bias against Gwynn signing with the team to begin with. There might be no more surprising event to me than making an argument for Gwynn to be in the Dodger starting lineup. But I just don’t see a better way to go right now.  Tony Gwynn Jr.  has a first-rate skill that no other Dodger has, and the Dodgers absolutely must consider taking advantage of it.

Dec 08

Dioner no longer a goner: Navarro to return

Well, I was a year early with this prediction. According to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, it appears Dioner Navarro will return to the Dodgers to help replace Russell Martin, 4 1/2 years after he was traded away with Jae Seo and Justin Ruggiano for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson. (Here’s my rather unflattering review of that deal.)

Navarro was a 22-year-old with a .759 OPS when he was traded amid 1) concerns about his defense and 2) enthusiasm for Martin, and some have always wondered whether, by keeping Navarro, the Dodgers might have saved Martin from overuse.

In any event, Navarro rehabilitated his made the 2008 American League All-Star team but has been pretty dreadful since. Though some might pencil Navarro in to make the major-league roster and share time with Rod Barajas, I’m not going to rule out A.J. Ellis beating him out.

* * *

From Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Information:

Tony Gwynn Jr. rates high regardless of what defensive metric you use. The last two seasons, he rated second and fourth among centerfielders in +/-, which measures the ability to turn batted balls into outs. He also rated highest in Ultimate Zone Rating for outfielders, pro-rated to 150 games (also known as UZR/150) in 2010, as tallied on Fangraphs.com.

Baseball Info Solutions also tracks approximately 30 categories of Good Fielding Plays and more than 50 categories of Defensive Misplays, based on specific criteria outlined by Bill James. Gwynn was tied for the major league lead in Net Rating (Good Fielding Plays minus Defensive Misplays and Errors) among centerfielders at the All-Star Break. Injuries limited his playing time after the break, so he finished the season fourth in that metric, behind Marlon Byrd, Michael Bourn and Peter Bourjos.

Gwynn’s signature defensive play was a gamesaver on June 6, with the Padres hanging on to a one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th inning, when he threw out Placido Polanco trying to go first-to-third on a single with one out in an eventual San Diego win. That’s the kind of play the Dodgers could use. Their assist total from centerfielders dropped from 14 in 2009 to three in 2010, tied for fewest in the majors.

* * *

The Dodgers have been named Organization of the Year by Topps. I’m going to pass along Topps’ rationale, and then you can get to making jokes about the award.

The Organization of the Year award dates back to 1966 and highlights the Major League team that has shown outstanding performance, depth and talent throughout their Major and Minor League teams. The award is presented annually based on the number of players in the organization that have received Topps awards during the season.Points are awarded in four different minor league categories including: All-Star players, Players of the Month, Trautman Award recipients, awarded to each league’s Minor League Player of the Year, and The J.G Taylor Spink Award recipient, awarded to the overall Minor League Player of the Year. Points are also awarded for those players selected for Topps’ Major League Rookie All-Star team.

The Dodgers’ individual winners included: Nick Akins (Player of the Month – Arizona Lg.); Brian Cavazos-Galvez (Player of the Month – Midwest Lg.); Leon Landry (Player of the Month – Pioneer Lg.); Jake Lemmerman (Class A All-Star/Trautman Award – Pioneer Lg.); John Lindsey (Class AAA All-Star/Player of the Month – Pacific Coast Lg.); Russell Mitchell (Class AAA All-Star); Elisaul Pimentel (Player of the Month – Midwest Lg.); Kyle Russell (Player of the Month – California Lg.); Jerry Sands (Player of the Month – Midwest Lg.) …

Dec 07

Dodgers to sign Chris Gwynn’s nephew

Tony Gwynn, Jr., is probably few people’s idea of an answer to the Dodgers’ outfield concerns, but now that the Dodgers are about to sign him, let’s talk about what they will do with him.

In his best year (2009), Gwynn reached the .350 mark in on-base percentage, but other than that and a good year on the basepaths last season (17 steals in 21 attempts), Gwynn has zero — or less than zero — offensive value.

Defensively, Gwynn’s another story, as he was arguably the best center fielder in the National League last season.

So if the Dodgers plan on using Gwynn as more than a fifth outfielder, should they not play him in center field, either moving Matt Kemp to left field or Kemp to right and Andre Ethier to left?

Just as you shouldn’t bat a great offensive player eighth, shouldn’t you avoid minimizing the impact of a fine defensive player?

The Dodgers’ 2011 lineup may be the most OBP-challenged we’ve seen in Los Angeles in some time. If the plan is to win with pitching and defense, while hoping that Kemp, Ethier and others hit a few home runs along the way, the Dodgers should seriously consider using Gwynn in center.

Of course, if the Dodgers want to find more offense for that third outfield slot, fine by me.

Update: R.J. Anderson of Fangraphs has more on Gwynn.

* * *

According to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, in addition to his $2 million base salary, Vicente Padilla could earn as much as $8 million in incentives as a starter or $6 million in incentives as a reliever.

Nov 11

Third base: The cold corner


John McDonough/Icon SMIRaul Mondesi

Last time the Dodgers won a Gold Glove at the following positions:

C – Russell Martin, 2007
1B – Steve Garvey, 1977
2B – Orlando Hudson, 2009
SS – Cesar Izturis, 2004
3B – None
OF – Matt Kemp, 2009
OF – Steve Finley, 2004
OF – Raul Mondesi, 1997
P – Greg Maddux, 2008

The timing wasn’t right for Ron Cey or Adrian Beltre to win Gold Gloves for the Dodgers …

* * *

  • The history of Bill Russell as Dodger manager gets a long look back at the Hardball Times from Steven Booth, who is searching for parallels (and coming up with mixed results) with Don Mattingly’s nascent tenure in the hot seat.
  • Sam Miller of the Orange County Register questions a system that makes relievers 35 percent of Type A free agents.

* * *

All my best wishes and thanks to the nation’s veterans on this day …

May 06

Dodgers can only wonder, ‘What next?’


Getty Images
Stat o’ the Day: Just 27 games into the Dodgers’ 2010 season, Ramon Troncoso has already pitched in 11 losses.

It may be early, but the fans are going wild – and not in a good way.

Wednesday’s 11-3 loss to Milwaukee marked the one-month anniversary of a Dodger season that began with an 11-5 loss to Pittsburgh. Two days shy of one year since Manny Ramirez’s suspension, it’s remarkable to think back and realize: The Dodger community was probably in better spirits that sorry day than now.

The wreckage of the Dodgers’ start to 2010 fits perfectly with the narrative that began in the offseason, which foretold that the divorce of Frank and Jamie McCourt would have a domino effect that would leave the franchise in ruins. And while this isn’t exactly Carthage, it is last place in the National League West in May.

A different ownership situation might have bred a different start to the season, it’s true. No, a pair of happily married McCourts would not have turned the 2009-10 Dodger offseason into a wheeling-and-dealing free-for-all – not after reaching the National League Championship Series two straight years, certainly not after the Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones debacles of recent offseasons. But Frank and Jamie surely wouldn’t have made fewer moves if they were still going steady.

But what’s sad about the 2010 Dodgers is that the doleful divorce has been only one of many, many, many other things that have gone wrong this season. Here begins “Lament: Why Even in Their Worst Nightmares, the Dodgers Couldn’t Fathom Being This Bad.”

Chapter the First: A Rotation Off Its Axis

Harry How/Getty Images
Mixed bag: The last 23 batters Chad Billingsley faced Wednesday did not score; the first four did.

Consider, if you will, that the Dodger starting rotation at the end of the 2009 season was made up of Randy Wolf (having something of a career year), a wounded Hiroki Kuroda, a staggering Chad Billingsley, a green Clayton Kershaw, and Vicente Padilla having, well, two great weeks.

Though spring training 2010 began with Wolf in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, there was every reason to believe that at least 60 percent of that bunch would be better than they were – in contrast to Wolf, who you’d reasonably expect to decline after everything imaginable went right for him at age 33. And in fact, that’s exactly what happened with Kuroda, who has a 2.08 ERA while averaging 6.9 innings per start this year.

But though they have had their moments, Billingsley and Kershaw haven’t exactly been the equivalent of, say, Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who has pitched 41 1/3 innings with a 0.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts. The growing pains are still evident – more painfully in the case of Billingsley, who is only six months younger than the cherry-picked Jimenez, but more fable-busting for Kershaw, who was supposed to be the guy with the head on his shoulders but instead has walked a mind-boggling seven batters per nine innings in ’09. Both still have bright futures, but the need for more consistency remains. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles has more on Billingsley.)

Then there was Padilla, who had two fine starts in the postseason but otherwise had been a forgettable pitcher for most of the past five years or more. The Dodgers chose him in January over Jon Garland, a pitcher they thought enough of five months earlier that they traded infield prospect Tony Abreu for him. The 30-year-old Garland, who signed with San Diego for a guaranteed $5.9 million (including a potential 2011 $600,000 club buyout), has an ERA of 2.06 (adjusted ERA 184) over 35 innings in six starts. The 32-year-old Padilla, who signed with the Dodgers for a guaranteed $5.025 million plus incentives, has pulled a mini-Schmidt: 21 2/3 innings, 6.65 ERA (61 ERA+) and an indefinite stay on the disabled list. This wasn’t the divorce or the budget talking. The Dodgers made a pretty simple either-or choice, and at least to this point, they chose wrong. (And did so even with the character issues that are supposedly so important to Dodger general manager Ned Colletti being in Garland’s favor.)

The fifth spot in the Dodger starting rotation had a number of candidates, though ideally there should only have been two: James McDonald and Scott Elbert. McDonald was the 2008 and 2009 Dodger Minor League Pitcher of the Year who had a rough start in 2010 before finishing the year strong. Elbert is considered by many to be an even brighter prospect. However, neither came close to making any kind of case in spring training that they belonged in the rotation – though they were given little opportunity while manager Joe Torre quickly turned his focus to pitchers who had no more minor-league options, like perennial also-ran Eric Stults and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger, along with a cascade of scrapheap veterans like the Ortiz Unbrothers, Ramon and Russ. Honestly, it was reasonable to suspect that someone from McDonald, Elbert and frenemies could give the Dodgers inconsistent but useful enough output in the back of the rotation – and the Dodgers have certainly had their share of luck in this area in recent years – but it hasn’t come close to happening. That in turn made the Dodgers particularly ill-prepared, at least at this point, for an injury to one of their front four starters, even Padilla.

This brings us back to the four pitchers most talked about this Dodger offseason. One was Wolf, who had a 4.91 ERA after three starts this season but has since allowed two runs in his past 14 innings. Two was John Lackey, who signed a five-year, $82 million contract with the Red Sox and has a 3.89 ERA. Lackey figured to be a B version of the former Dodger with the famous seven-year contract itch, Kevin Brown – not quite as expensive but not quite as good and arguably every bit as likely to get injured for part of his contract. Lackey raises a good question: Do you pay big money for a pitcher even knowing that one of those years he’s likely to spend on the DL? I would have said no – and perhaps that’s ultimately a question for the accountants – but given the Dodgers’ current pitching desperation, many people would probably be inclined to say yes.

Pitchers three and four are Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, the most-discussed trade targets of the past year. Whatever efforts the Dodgers made to acquire them, the organization has ultimately had to bet that what they had in Kershaw and Billingsley (among other young players) in the long term would be worth more than what they would get out of Lee and Halladay in the short term – not a bad bet, but strictly as of May 2010, a losing bet.

So there you have it. We’ve discussed close to a dozen starting pitchers, and of that group, only Kuroda has given the Dodgers a happy beginning to 2010. Some of the misfortune the Dodgers brought upon themselves; some of it has been ill-fated – but when you add it all up, it’s almost a clean sweep for Murphy’s Law over Los Angeles.

Chapter the Second: The Blahpen

Kathy Willens/AP
George Sherrill: 0.65 ERA as a Dodger in 2009, 9.00 in 2010.

When your best reliever (Jonathan Broxton) hasn’t even pitched nine innings all year, when your next-best bullpen success story is a Rule 5 draftee (Carlos Monasterios) who remains on the roster, things have gone horribly wrong.

Maybe it all started with Ronald Belisario, for virtually all of spring training trapped in a distant land like a passenger crashing with Oceanic 815, his absence shifting the balance of the bullpen when the season began ever-so-slightly yet ever-so-significantly. His MIA act, accompanied by another ill-timed injury to lefty mesmerizer Hong-Chih Kuo and an almost complete reversal-of-fortune by 2009′s stellar set-up man, George Sherrill, turned a key Dodger strength into a disaster area. In the Dodgers’ first 15 games of 2010, the bullpen lost five – that alone made a huge difference between the Dodgers being 11-16 this morning as opposed to 16-11, of being 5 1/2 games out of first place as opposed to just half a game. And that doesn’t even count games like Wednesday’s, in which the bullpen was handed a one-run deficit and let it multiply by 800%.

What did the Dodgers do wrong with their relievers? Not a lot. Yeah, if money were no object, they could have outbid the Angels for a guy like Fernando Rodney, who signed for an exorbitant amount of money for a reliever: two years, $11 million. Or they could have spent $50,000 on a chaperone for Belisario. Beyond that, what they assembled was battle-tested and looked like one of the best bullpens in baseball. It just hasn’t worked out that way.

Chapter the Third: Defenestrate the defense

Danny Moloshok/AP
Charged with 10 errors last year, Casey Blake has made half that many this year.

Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced that a change by the official scorer gave James Loney a throwing error for a play that occurred against the Reds nearly two weeks before. It kind of fit: The Dodger defense has been so poor this year that it can pick up errors without even playing.

The defense had actually been on a modest streak of errorless games recently until Wednesday night against the Brewers, when Casey Blake threw in the dirt in the seventh inning of what at the time was a one-run game. Before the night was over, the team botched a rundown play and Blake made another error, his fifth in 24 games.

It felt very familiar. For most of the year, the defense has been toxic. The expected weak spots, such as Ramirez in left field, haven’t even been the story. There have been mistakes all over the field, to the extent that Matt Kemp’s 2009 Gold Glove in center field is being examined for “Dewey Defeats Truman” inaccuracies.

The defense broke the levee on the already cracking Dodger pitching, helping spoil what really was a true onslaught by the Dodger offense in the opening days of the year. The Dodgers averaged 6.5 runs in those first 15 games, but lost eight of them. And yet at seven of eight positions, this was the same defense that the Dodgers took to the NL playoffs last year. The mere aging of players Blake and Ramirez doesn’t begin to explain it. Did the Dodgers not prepare properly in spring training? Who knows? But this was another walk off the cliff that at least in part appeared out of nowhere.

Chapter the Fourth: Yes, Everyone Gets Injuries

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Manny Ramirez has a 1.159 OPS – but only 52 plate appearances.

… so we won’t cry too long over the Dodgers’ sick bay.  Losing Kuo was one thing, losing Jeff Weaver was barely anything, but losing Padilla was a problematic thing, and then Ramirez and Rafael Furcal going out almost simultaneously was a big thing. No one expected either Ramirez or Furcal to play 162 games, but in a better Dodger world, they would have at least made it through April. Heck, Ramirez made it into May last year before he was unceremoniously sidelined by what turned up in the lab.

In any case, it’s fair to say that the Dodgers knew in advance they would need a bench this year – and it’s no secret that Colletti has always liked to have depth. But again, some choices that had nothing to do with the divorce have gone awry. For example, on December 16, Jamey Carroll (36 in February) signed with the Dodgers for nearly $4 million over two years. Two weeks later, Kelly Johnson (28 in February) signed a cheaper contract in overall value with Arizona: one year, $2.35 million. Carroll has a .383 on-base percentage but just one extra-base hit. Johnson was just named NL Player of the Month after going 25 for 80 with eight doubles and nine home runs – a .404 on-base percentage and .750 slugging percentage.

Brad Ausmus and Garret Anderson have been wasted signings, albeit relatively inexpensive ones. You’re never going to get ‘em all right, and you can certainly argue that so far, Ronnie Belliard has been worth the $825,000 he lost weight to earn from the Dodgers, while Reed Johnson has been what you’d expect him to be. But those are the few breaks the Dodgers have caught, in a first month that exposed another nagging worry sooner than they would have hoped.

Chapter the Fifth: Five months to go

Wednesday, Billingsley gave up four runs in the first inning – then pitched five shutout innings and could have come out battling for a win in the seventh inning had Carroll, well, been able to hit his first three-run homer in 2,574 career plate appearances. Yep, this is when you bring out the unseemly disclaimer: It’s still early.

I haven’t even wanted to mention that the 2009 Colorado Rockies started with an 11-16 record at this time last year, exactly where the Dodgers are today – and then lost 12 of their next 19 before bouncing back with a months-long hot streak that scared the pajamas off every NL rival going into the playoffs. When John Ely, who was something like the Dodgers’ No. 14 starter entering spring training, is the guy you’re counting on for the second week in a row to prevent a series sweep, it’s not auspicious. If Kuroda goes down at some point this year, the Dodgers could give their 91-loss 2005 a run for its worthless money. But yes, it’s still early.

Maybe with happier owners, the Dodgers sign Wolf. Mainly with different owners, the Dodgers splurge for Lackey. Maybe there’s a parallel universe where the Dodgers make the big trade for Lee or convince Halladay that the West Coast ain’t so bad. But the Dodger problems in 2010 have been much more than the loss of one veteran pitcher.

And that’s with some things that people expected to go wrong not doing so at all. Kuroda wasn’t done as a pitcher. Ramirez wasn’t done as a hitter. Broxton has not been scarred by Jimmy Rollins’ game-winning double in the 2009 NLCS. Andre Ethier hasn’t regressed – he’s an early contender for the Triple Crown. James Loney is showing signs of life.

For that matter, Juan Pierre, the supposedly reborn savior from 2009 who was sent to the White Sox for 2010, is batting .226, with seven walks and 15 steals in 19 attempts but no extra-base hits.

It’s still early – but whether it’s early enough for a turnaround or just early in a miserable year, I don’t know. Even for a team playing ball both on the field and in divorce court, so much can change between May and October. After all, look at what’s happened to the Dodgers between October and May.

Apr 22

Dodger errors and their consequences


Keith Srakocic/AP
Casey Blake has three errors in 11 starts, though none of his errors have affected the game’s outcome.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Dodger errors and their effects this season. In 14 games, the team has made 16 errors, leading to 12 unearned runs. Three of the errors have contributed directly to losses.

1) Russell Martin (1), April 5 at Pittsburgh (Game 1, second inning)
Error: Tied 2-2, with runners on first and second, Martin bobbled Zach Duke bunt in front of home plate.
Consequences: No runs, seven extra pitches thrown by Vicente Padilla.

2) Casey Blake (1), April 5 at Pittsburgh (Game 1, seventh inning)
Error: Down 8-5, with bases empty and one out, Blake flubbed Jeff Clement’s grounder.
Consequences: No runs, three extra pitches thrown by Russ Ortiz.

3) Blake DeWitt (1), April 7 at Pittsburgh (Game 2, 10th inning)
Error: Tied 3-3, first batter of the inning, DeWitt commits miscue on Lastings Milledge grounder.
Consequences: Milledge sacrificed to second and two batters later scores winning (unearned) run off Ramon Ortiz.

4) Ronnie Belliard (1), April 8 at Pittsburgh (Game 3, seventh inning)
Error: Leading 8-1, one out and bases empty, third baseman Belliard allows Andrew McCutchen to reach on a grounder.
Consequences: Ramon Troncoso induces 4-6-3 double play from next batter.

5) Ronnie Belliard (2), April 8 at Pittsburgh (Game 3, eighth inning)
Error: Leading 8-2, one out and runner on second, Adam LaRoche takes advantage of another Belliard mistake.
Consequences: Carlos Monasterios retires next two batters, two extra pitches required.

6) Casey Blake (2), April 9 at Florida (Game 4, fifth inning)
Error: Tied 0-0, leadoff batter Cody Ross reaches on Blake mistake.
Consequences: Hiroki Kuroda retires next three batters, one extra pitch required.

7) Russell Martin (2), April 9 at Florida (Game 4, sixth inning)
Error: Tied 0-0, Martin throws away Cameron Maybin bunt (single plus error).
Consequences: Kuroda allows one-out single to Jorge Cantu for unearned run. Needs three extra pitches to get out of inning.

8) Matt Kemp (1), April 11 at Florida (Game 6, sixth inning)
Error: Leading 5-3 with bases empty and two out, Kemp misreads shallow Ronny Paulino fly ball, dives for it but bobbles it for two-base error.
Consequences:
Charlie Haeger allows RBI single for unearned run, then a walk before getting a groundout to end inning. Nine extra pitches. Dodgers ultimately lose, 6-5.

9) Rafael Furcal (1), April 15 vs. Arizona (Game 9, second inning)
Error: Trailing 1-0 with runner on second and and two out, Furcal throws away Conor Jackson’s infield single.
Consequences:
Jon Hester comes around to score unearned run; Tony Abreu extends Kuroda for eight pitches before grounding out to end inning.

10) Casey Blake (3), April 15 vs. Arizona (Game 9, ninth inning)
Error: Arizona leads 4-3 with runners on first and third and one out when Blake mishandles Abreu grounder.
Consequences: Unearned run
scores. Dodger reliever Ramon Ortiz called in, needs four extra pitches to get out of inning. Dodgers tie game in bottom of the ninth thanks in great part to a Stephen Drew error, then win in 10th.

11) A.J. Ellis (1), April 17 vs. San Francisco (Game 11, third inning)
Error: Trailing 1-0, runner on first, Ellis throws ball away on Aubrey Huff steal attempt.
Consequences:
See next entry.

12) Jamey Carroll (1), April 17 vs. San Francisco (Game 11, third inning)
Error: With Huff on third, Carroll (playing shortstop) can’t handle Mark DeRosa grounder.
Consequences:
Four runs score in the inning — two unearned, thanks to the errors and an Ellis passed ball.

13) Chad Billingsley (1), April 20 at Cincinnati (Game 13, second inning)
Error: Tied 3-3 with no outs and runners on first and third, Billingsley throws away Homer Bailey’s sacrifice attempt.
Consequences:
Most disastrous defensive play of year to date. Of six runs Billingsley allows in inning, three are unearned. Billingsley needs nine extra pitches to exit inning. Dodgers lose, 11-9.

14) Russell Martin (3), April 20 at Cincinnati (Game 13, fourth inning)
Error: Trailing 7-3, runner on first and two out, Martin throw gets away on Drew Stubbs steal attempt.
Consequences:
The next batter, Joey Votto, homers off Ramon Ortiz. Runs are earned. Ortiz needs three extra pitches to end the inning.

15) Blake DeWitt (2), April 21 at Cincinnati (Game 14, fourth inning)
Error: Leading 4-3, runner on first and one out, DeWitt lets potential double-play grounder get past him.
Consequences:
One out and one Kuroda walk later, Aaron Harang knocks his controversial single just shy of Andre Ethier’s glove for unearned run.

16) Rafael Furcal (2), April 21 at Cincinnati (Game 14, fourth inning)
Error: Leading 9-4, runner on first and two out, an easy grounder to Furcal somehow gets through.
Consequences:
George Sherrill replaces Kuroda and gives up a single that scores two unearned runs. Sherrill uses three more pitches to end inning. Error forced the Dodgers to use an extra pitcher in the game.

* * *

Update: The Dodgers have activated Hong-Chih Kuo and placed Jeff Weaver on the disabled list.

Apr 09

Dodgers, Kuroda win despite ongoing defensive concerns


Doug Benc/Getty Images
Hiroki Kuroda didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings in his first start of the season.

Stuck in a shutout duel for five innings and looking like he might be a hard-luck loser after six, Hiroki Kuroda emerged triumphant and then some.

Kuroda went eight innings in his first start of the season without allowing an earned run, by far the star in the Dodgers’ 7-3 victory that evened their season record at 2-2.

Doug Penc/Getty Images

John Baker’s blooper fell for a double after Blake DeWitt nearly collided with Reed Johnson in the second inning Friday. Hiroki Kuroda struck out two of the next three batters to get out of the inning.

The 35-year-old righthander, whose 2009 season ended mired in injuries, allowed four singles, a bloop double and a walk (intentional) while striking out seven. Kuroda tallied his eight innings in 100 pitches, and with better defense behind him might easily have pitched a shutout.

The near-collision in the second inning between Reed Johnson and Blake DeWitt that led to the only extra-base hit off Kuroda, the error by Casey Blake in the fifth and the throwing error by Russell Martin (leading to an unearned run) were among the defensive lapses that kept Kuroda from an even more efficent outing. The mistakes could be said to be just three of those things that happen at a baseball game. But as much as people have focused on DeWitt as a defensive worry, it’s pretty easy to point to half the eight defensive positions – second, third, left and right – and say the Dodgers have limited range there, compounded by the sometimes erratic play by Rafael Furcal at short and Martin behind the plate.

Even the best make mistakes. Gold Glove winner Matt Kemp and first-base artist James Loney aren’t perfect, and perfection isn’t expected. But the Dodgers are going to have to outscore or outpitch their defense a lot this year.

Fortunately for them tonight, they were up to the task, thanks to Kuroda and an offense that scored seven times in the final three innings. Furcal was 3 for 4 with a walk tonight and had two of the Dodgers’ five doubles.

The night ended after Jonathan Broxton made sure Russ Ortiz’s ERA didn’t go unpunished after Ortiz loaded the bases on a single and two walks in the bottom of the ninth. Broxton gave up a two-run double to Wes Helms before striking out the final two batters of the game.

* * *

Notes from Tony Jackson:

  • Andre Ethier remains day-to-day with a sore ankle, and figures to pinch-hit before he returns to the starting lineup.
  • Hong-Chih Kuo has a bullpen session scheduled for Sunday, which hopefully will greenlight his return from the disabled list within the next week.
  • Dodger Thoughts hero Pedro Guerrero visited the clubhouse and former teammates Rick Monday, Rick Honeycutt and Mariano Duncan today.

* * *

Scott Elbert had a whale of a first start tonight for Albuquerque. He pitched six shutout innings, allowing two hits, walking five and striking out 10 –  somehow needing only 96 pitches to do all that. Elbert, who twice pitched out of one-out jams with runners on second and third, left with a 1-0 lead, but Brent Leach couldn’t hold it and the Isotopes lost, 4-3.