May 26

Site update

For two weeks, I haven’t been able to give this site the attention it needs.  And I’m not happy with the level of content. It’s been of no use.

So until a solution comes, if you haven’t already, set your expectations accordingly. Thanks.

May 25

Hairston activated as Sellers joins DL-go-round

Astros at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXVI: Kershaw I Met Your Mother

Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Elian Herrera, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Dee Gordon, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P

Jerry Hairston Jr. makes a welcome return from the disabled list and into the Dodger starting lineup tonight.

His roster spot is being vacated by Justin Sellers, who is suffering from the unpleasantness of a bulging disc. Hariston and Elian Herrera will serve as the backups at shortstop, though neither has much familiarity with the position of late.

May 24

Winning breeds chemistry: revisited


Winning breeds chemistry, and not the other way around. Happy scores make happy players. That’s one of the longtime philosophies of Dodger Thoughts, a firm stance in a debate that came up often during the clashes of the Jim Tracy-Paul DePodesta era.

The 2012 Dodgers are the first team in 10 years to tempt me with second thoughts. How else, one might ask, can a team with serious talent deficiencies in April, compounded by the loss of several players — including a superstar in Matt Kemp — to the disabled list in May, have the best record in the major leagues? In fact, since July 6, the Dodgers are 75-42, a pace that translates to 104 wins over a 162-game season, with a roster admired by few outside of Los Angeles and few others within the city limits.

Don Mattingly and his coaching staff have nurtured what would seem to be the best clubhouse atmosphere at Dodger Stadium since at least Manny Ramirez’s arrival in 2008. This is a happy, determined, focused bunch. Confident without being cocky, as the warm cliche goes.

But is that why they’re winning?

That would require us believing that chemistry is the reason Scott Van Slyke and Ivan De Jesus got their game-winning hits this week, instead of just a friendly ruling from the law of averages, that it’s the reason that Ted Lilly (Wednesday notwithstanding) and Chris Capuano have pitched beyond the highest expectations, that it’s the reason Kemp and Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis are All-Star candidates, that it’s the reason Elian Herrera looks like a revelation despite seemingly being found on Craigslist.

It would also require us ignoring how players like Dee Gordon are performing gamely but as if immune to the good vibes, that Chad Billingsley and James Loney can’t seem to derive any consistency from them, that they can make Van Slyke heroic off the bench but do nothing for him as a starter, when he is 0 for 13.

If Herrera, for example, comes back to earth after starting his career with an .854 OPS in 28 plate appearances, we wouldn’t infer that Chemistry has left the building. We would assume that it’s because Reality has entered.

There’s more than a bit of chicken-and-egg origin theory going on here. Winning and chemistry may well feed upon each other — you don’t need to rely exclusively on one to explain the joy of the 2012 Dodgers. It’s likely that a good environment works more for some players than with others.

Still, my view remains that baseball is a sport that motivates the individual to such a degree that clubhouse factors will be secondary to talent. It is not your typical workplace. Whether you’re a ballplayer fighting to keep a roster spot or pushing for extra millions on your next contract, you have every reason to try do well.

Right now, the Dodgers have a lot of guys who are succeeding in these efforts. They have, in a sense, mostly winners — more than anyone else in baseball on this day. And that’s what feels so good.

The true mystery isn’t how it happens, because it can happen at any time. The true mystery is how long these guys can make it happen.

May 22

Can’t explain

I can’t explain … anything that is going on.

For the past week, I have been sitting on the sidelines. Watching. Not writing.

There’s more going on right now with my compulsion to write about the Dodgers than I can articulate right now. None of it is bad. It’s just complicated. Like trying to jump on to a spinout ride, not knowing how to jump … and realizing you don’t have to jump. That maybe you’re not supposed to jump.

It has never seemed less necessary to offer my two cents. I’ve never felt less qualified. There’s nothing I’m seeing that you’re not seeing. The only thing I can tell you about the Dodgers is what I’m feeling … and you’re already feeling it.

Maybe someday, there will be a baseball team that I’ll write about again. But this is a thrill ride. Right now, I’m a passenger, just like you.

May 20

Chad Billingsley and the truth about meltdown innings

Cardinals at Dodgers, 5:05 p.m.

Mark Ellis had emergency surgery Saturday, will be out at least six weeks.

Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Elian Herrera, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Chad Billingsley, P

Chad Billingsley, who pitches tonight for the Dodgers against the Cardinals on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, has a reputation for being exceptionally prone to having a single inning where everything goes wrong and he can’t stop the bleeding, with questions about his mental focus and fortitude inevitably following.

For a while, I’ve wondered how much more often this actually happened to Billingsley than to other pitchers. I finally decided to take a look. (You can see the data at the bottom of this post.)

Since 2010, Billingsley has had what we’ll call a meltdown inning – three or more earned runs allowed – in 5.4 percent of his innings. That is the highest figure among the four starters most used by the Dodgers, topping Ted Lilly (4.4 percent), Hiroki Kuroda (4.0 percent) and Clayton Kershaw (3.2 percent).

How significant is this?

Every 10 starts, Billingsley has one more meltdown inning than the best pitcher in the National League does. The difference between Billingsley and Kershaw in this category is approximately two bad innings out of every 100. Given that these guys pitch roughly 200 innings a year, you’re talking about four additional bad innings per year – which goes a long way toward explaining the difference in their ERAs (2.49 for Kershaw, 3.88 for Billingsley) since 2010.

Billingsley is not as good a pitcher as Kershaw. That much is clear, and it’s reflected in the fact that Billingsley is a bit more vulnerable to a bad inning than Kershaw is. But this idea that Billingsley is uniquely prone to the meltdown inning – that it’s practically his calling card – is harder to sell.

Last year, for example, Billingsley and Kuroda each made 31 starts. They each had eight innings in which they allowed three runs. They each had two innings in which they allowed four runs. And yet even though a higher percentage of Kuroda’s 2012 runs allowed came in his meltdown innings, Kuroda did not leave the Dodgers with remotely the reputation for this sort of thing that Billingsley has. In fact, many argue that Kuroda’s mental game is a strength of his.

Since 2010, 80 of the 183 earned runs Billingsley has allowed have come in those 23 meltdown innings (43.7 percent). In that same span, 53 of the 138 earned runs Kershaw has allowed have come in his 16 meltdown innings (38.4 percent). Billingsley is worse than Kershaw, but Kershaw is nearly every bit as likely to give up the runs he does allow in bunches.

To the extent that Billingsley does give up the most meltdown innings of any regularly used Dodger starting pitcher, his reputation is deserved. But he doesn’t do it so often that he should wear it like an albatross, that it should become a “here we go again” moment each time it happens. Not when out of every hundred innings, Billingsley does it five times and Kershaw does it three.

Even the best Dodger pitchers give up runs in bunches. That’s just kind of how baseball works.

2012 (innings of three, four, five, six and seven earned runs allowed):

Pitcher Starts Innings ERA Three Four Five Six Seven Total Start% IP%
Billingsley 8 44.67 3.83 1 1       2 25.0% 4.5%
Capuano 8 50.00 2.34   1       1 12.5% 2.0%
Harang 8 49.33 3.83 2         2 25.0% 4.1%
Kershaw 9 61.67 1.90 2         2 22.2% 3.2%
Lilly 7 45.33 1.79 1         1 14.3% 2.2%
Total 40 251.00 2.69 6 2 0 0 0 8 20.0% 3.2%

2011:

Pitcher Starts Innings ERA Three Four Five Six Seven Total Start% IP%
Billingsley 32 188.00 4.21 5 4 2     11 34.4% 5.9%
De La Rosa 10 55.67 3.88 2   1     3 30.0% 5.4%
Ely 1 5.67 6.35           0 0.0% 0.0%
Eovaldi 6 32.00 3.09     1     1 16.7% 3.1%
Eveland 5 29.67 3.03 1 1       2 40.0% 6.7%
Garland 9 54.00 4.33 2     1   3 33.3% 5.6%
Kershaw 33 233.33 2.28 6 1       7 21.2% 3.0%
Kuroda 32 202.00 3.07 4 2       6 18.8% 3.0%
Lilly 33 192.67 3.97 6 3       9 27.3% 4.7%
Total 161 993.00 3.41 26 11 4 1 0 42 26.1% 4.2%

2010:

Pitcher Starts Innings ERA Three Four Five Six Seven Total Start% IP%
Billingsley 31 191.67 3.57 8 2       10 32.3% 5.2%
Ely 18 100.00 5.49 10 1       11 61.1% 11.0%
Haeger 6 23.00 9.78 2   1     3 50.0% 13.0%
Kershaw 32 204.33 2.91 6       1 7 21.9% 3.4%
Kuroda 31 196.33 3.39 8 2       10 32.3% 5.1%
Lilly 12 76.67 3.52 2 1 1     4 33.3% 5.2%
McDonald 1 5 7.20           0 0.0% 0.0%
Monasterios 13 53.33 5.91 3         3 23.1% 5.6%
Ortiz 2 7.33 9.82     1     1 50.0% 13.6%
Padilla 16 95.00 4.07 2 3       5 31.3% 5.3%
Total 162 952.67 3.99 41 9 3 0 1 54 33.3% 5.7%

2010-12:

2010-12 Starts Innings ERA Three Four Five Six Seven Total Start% IP%
Billingsley 71 424.33 3.88 14 7 2     23 32.4% 5.4%
Capuano 8 50.00 2.34   1       1 12.5% 2.0%
De La Rosa 10 55.67 3.88 2   1     3 30.0% 5.4%
Ely 19 105.67 5.54 10 1       11 57.9% 10.4%
Eovaldi 6 32.00 3.09     1     1 16.7% 3.1%
Eveland 5 29.67 3.03 1 1       2 40.0% 6.7%
Garland 9 54.00 4.33 2     1   3 33.3% 5.6%
Haeger 6 23.00 9.78 2   1     3 50.0% 13.0%
Harang 8 49.33 3.83 2         2 25.0% 4.1%
Kershaw 74 499.33 2.49 14 1     1 16 21.6% 3.2%
Kuroda 63 398.33 3.23 12 4       16 25.4% 4.0%
Lilly 52 314.67 3.55 9 4 1     14 26.9% 4.4%
McDonald 1 5 7.20           0 0.0% 0.0%
Monasterios 13 53.33 5.91 3         3 23.1% 5.6%
Ortiz 2 7.33 9.82     1     1 50.0% 13.6%
Padilla 16 95.00 4.07 2 3       5 31.3% 5.3%
Total 363 2196.67 3.58 73 22 7 1 1 104 28.7% 4.7%
May 19

Ellis for chillin’

Thanks to the left leg injury he suffered Friday, Mark Ellis joins Juan Rivera, Matt Kemp, Juan Uribe and Jerry Hairston Jr. in the Society of Disabled Position Players. In his place, Ivan De Jesus Jr. becomes yet another ballplayer’s son on the Dodger roster.

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has more.

Cardinals at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXV: Kershnakes on a Plane
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Elian Herrera, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Clayton Kershaw, P
May 19

Gordon might head to minors soon

From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, after a postgame chat with Dodger manager Don Mattingly:

… Mattingly seemed to concede for the first time after the game that shortstop Dee Gordon might not be long for the leadoff spot. Gordon continued to struggle there, going 0-for-5 without hitting a ball out of the infield, and he now is 2-for-31 over the past seven games.

“Seeing it from where I was at tonight, it wasn’t very good,” said Mattingly, who got to watch most of it from the center-field television camera on the television in his office because he was ejected by plate umpire Tom Hallion in the top of the third inning. “The game seems to be moving awfully fast for him right now. We are going to continue to make decisions. But in the same breath, this kid is going to be a good player. He is going through something right now that is going to make him a better player later on.

“Things aren’t easy in this game, and there are times when you’re going to go through rough stuff. He is going through some rough stuff right now.”

Reading between the lines of Mattingly’s comments, it sounds like something will happen with Gordon soon, possibly before Saturday night’s game. Because Gordon is such a key part of the Dodgers’ future, it isn’t likely anyone is going to let him sit around on the bench. A stint in Triple-A would seem more logical because it would mean he would be getting regular at-bats and have a chance to work out the kinks, something he couldn’t do as a reserve player in the major leagues. …

Gordon’s batting average fell to exactly .200 Friday, with a .239 on-base percentage.

One delaying factor could be the health of Mark Ellis, who had to leave Friday’s 6-5 Dodger victory over St. Louis shortly after he was hit with a hard takeout slide. X-rays were negative, but if Ellis has to miss any games, that would remove another starter from the Dodger infield. That said, the Dodgers could still bring up someone like Ivan De Jesus to be a reserve to back up the infield of, yes, Adam Kennedy, Justin Sellers and Elian Herrera.

Herrera, who drew the eight-pitch walk to start the bottom of the ninth and then went from first to third on Adam Kennedy’s fourth hit, could see more playing time thanks to that at-bat.

May 17

The lineups of the 2005 Dodgers

Dodgers at Padres, 7:05 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Aaron Harang, P

Tonight’s Dodger lineup, which features Adam Kennedy batting fifth, is not the first to have a player in an unexpected spot. Just last year, in honor of Aaron Miles, I did pieces at Dodger Thoughts on the most obscure but memorable No. 3 hitters and No. 5 hitters.

This time around, I thought I’d just go straight back to highlight the lineups of the 2005 Dodgers, who ended their season (and Jim Tracy’s tenure) with Mike Edwards batting cleanup.

I’m taking an extreme risk here, because the last thing I want to do is reignite mercifully dormant debates about guys like J.D. Drew, Hee Seop Choi and Milton Bradley. In any case, things didn’t really get weird for the ’05 Dodgers until later in the season.