Jun 27

Any runs in these stockings?

As painful as the Dodgers’ 21-inning scoreless streak has been, it’s hardly unprecedented.

Dodger Thoughts, August 8, 2007:

L.A. 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 - 0
Opp. 020 100 000 301 000 00x 001 000 00x - 8

Dodger Thoughts, July 30, 2003:

L.A. 000 000 000 01 010 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 010 000 000 000 000 000-3
Opp. 000 000 000 00 000 100 000 000 001 000 010 00x 000 000 000 020 000 00x-5

That latter link points to a couple of occasions in which the Dodgers were held to a total of two runs in a five-game stretch.

* * *

Dodgers at Giants, 12:45 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Chad Billingsley, P

Here is a link to Tim Lincecum’s history against active Dodgers, something I surmise influenced Don Mattingly’s lineup choices today. Juan Rivera is 6 for 14 with a walk against Lincecum, while James Loney is 8 for 42 with two walks.

Otherwise, for all of Loney’s problems, I don’t see the case for playing Rivera at first base against right-handed pitching.

But any discussion of the Dodger lineup these days feels like quibbling in the graveyard.

 

Sep 18

September 18 game chat

“How a line drive percentage boost has helped Matt Kemp,” from Mark A. Simon of ESPN Stats and Information:

Matt Kemp hit line drives on 16 percent of the balls he put in play in 2010. He’s upped that rate to 22 percent in 2011 (statistics through Wednesday’s games).

How much of a difference does a six percentage point jump make? Let’s explore:

In 2010, Matt Kemp had 50 hits on his 71 line drives (50-for-69, .725 BA, two sacrifice fly)

In 2011, through Wednesday, he has 72 hits on 91 line drives (72-for-90, .800 BA, 1 sacrifice fly)

Hypothetically, let’s say that Kemp was hitting line drives at a similar rate to last season and that he was getting hits on them at a similar rate to last season.

In our new situation, that would give him 48 hits on 66 line drives

That would give him 24 fewer hits than he has right now.

To account for those 25 balls he hit that we’re no longer considering line drives (91 minus 66), Let’s presume he still hit those balls- but hit flies and grounders.

Kemp has hit fly balls and ground balls this season at nearly the same rate. So let’s give him 13 fly balls and 12 ground balls. And his hit rates on those are such that it should add about 8 hits to his ledger.

In all, that would mean that the increased line drive rate and line drive performance has been worth about 16 hits to Kemp’s ledger.

If we took those 16 hits and turned them into outs, it would chop 30 points off Matt Kemp’s batting average.

He’d be hitting .286 instead of .316. Still pretty good, but would perception be any different, given that he’s still a 30 HR-30 SB player?

* * *

On Thursday night, I read a review in the New Yorker (abstracted here and also discussed here) of a new novel, “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

In Friday’s mail was a copy of the book, sent to me by my father. Nice.

Aug 01

Road boosts Kemp’s Triple Crown hopes


Kirby Lee/US PresswireMatt Kemp (shown above wearing his airplane headset around his neck) is the Dodgers’ best Triple Crown candidate since Adrian Beltre, who led the NL in homers in 2004 and finished fourth in batting average and RBI.

No, we don’t value RBI much as a stat in these parts — not without context anyway — and we value batting average even less.

Unless they give us something fun to root for.

Here we are on August 1, and Matt Kemp still is plumb in the thick of Triple Crown contention.

The thing I like most in Kemp’s favor is that 33 of the Dodgers’ remaining 55 games are on the road, where Kemp is batting .335 with 15 homers and 45 RBI in 48 games.

Admittedly, some of those games will be in pitcher paradises like San Diego, where the Dodgers begin a three-game series tonight. But most of them are in ballparks where Kemp’s bat will feel much more footloose and fancy-free than it has in Dodger Stadium this year, where he is batting .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 59 games.

The odds are against Kemp, but it’s not ridiculous to think he could do it. Here’s the breakdown:

Batting average
.341 Jose Reyes
.322 Ryan Braun
.319 Daniel Murphy
.319 Joey Votto
.317 Matt Kemp

Kemp’s greatest deficit is in batting average, but it’s also the only category where the leaders can come back down to you. Kemp is currently hitting 27 points above his career average, but Reyes is 50 points above his and hasn’t batted over .300 since his rookie year in 2003.

Home runs
28 Lance Berkman
26 Matt Kemp
24 Albert Pujols
24 Prince Fielder
24 Mike Stanton

Comeback Player of the Year candidate Berkman is 35 and has been battling shoulder issues. Kemp’s bigger challenge might come from the guys behind him: renowned tater-trotters Pujols and Fielder as well as the up-and-coming Stanton.

Runs batted in
82 Matt Kemp
81 Ryan Howard
76 Prince Fielder
73 Troy Tulowitzki
72 Lance Berkman

How close is it to a miracle that Kemp is leading the National League in RBI? His team’s No. 1 and No. 2 hitters are combining for a .327 on-base percentage, which is 10th in the NL and worst among the five teams represented here. But he’s come this far … why stop now?

Jul 20

Dodgers fire hitting coach Pentland

The Dodgers have fired batting coach Jeff Pentland and replaced him on an interim basis with Dave Hansen.

This was Pentland’s fourth year in the organization and first as major-league batting coach (replacing, of course, Don Mattingly). He has had hitting coach jobs with the Royals, Cubs and Mariners dating back to 1997.

Hansen, who holds Dodger records for pinch-hits and pinch-homers in a season and pinch-hits in a career (ahead of Manny Mota), came back to Los Angeles last winter after four years in the Diamondbacks organization.

James Loney and Juan Uribe are the most noteworthy Dodgers who have performed below expectations this year, though an ongoing issue with the team is that you couldn’t expect much from the offense at other positions, such as catcher and left field. Essentially, Pentland is getting blame for the poor performances while not getting credit for players like Matt Kemp. That assessment might be deserved — I honestly have no idea.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more, including quotes from Ned Colletti:

… “It was a very tough decision,” Colletti said. “This is a good man. Pent has always been a good man and a very good hitting guy. … (But) this is a reflection on how we’re hitting.”

The Dodgers entered Wednesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park hitting just .250 as a team, and they were next to last in the National League in runs scored. They have been particularly bad at hitting with runners in scoring position.

Pentland was told of his firing in a meeting with Colletti and Mattingly immediately after Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Giants. Mattingly broke the news to the team a couple of hours before Wednesday’s game.

Pentland wasn’t made available for comment.

“Donnie and I had talked about it for a couple of weeks,” Colletti said. “My hope was that after the (All-Star) break, we would come out refreshed a little bit and become more productive. But the focus hasn’t been there, and the at-bats haven’t been there. The production with runners in scoring position is near the bottom of baseball.”

* * *

“Major League Baseball has not reached out to AEG about building a downtown stadium for the Los Angeles Dodgers, despite Internet reports,” AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke told Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Jul 06

Remember Jamey Carroll?

Aaron Miles’ bruised right elbow, which could sideline him for a brief time, gives Jamey Carroll a chance to get back into a Dodger lineup that had suddenly become hard for him to crack.

Carroll, who has consistently been one of the Dodgers’ top players this season, has only two starts and 11 plate appearances (2 for 10 with a walk) in the Dodgers’ past eight games. Carroll had played 74 of the Dodgers’ first 79 games this season, starting 63 of them.

With the hot-hitting Miles’ increased playing time, one can understand how Carroll’s workload lessened, but at the same time, it seems that a struggling team might want to take advantage of an effective player while it still can. Carroll’s .365 on-base percentage remains third on the Dodgers, behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

Besides Miles, it’s mainly Juan Uribe who has kept Carroll out of the Dodger lineup. Uribe strengthens the Dodger defense when he plays third base, but at the plate, he’s been giving a lot of that back. With Uribe signed to a three-year deal, the Dodgers have little choice but to hope that he regains what offensive form he had, but it’s been hard to see one of the team’s better bats in Carroll sidelined in the process.

Mar 11

Dream-weaving the Dodgers offense

My thoughts remain with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal, shaky sparkplug

It says something about how concerned people are with the Dodgers offense that even as pitchers Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Ronald Belisario have dropped off the probable Opening Day roster, the hitting is still the Dodgers’ primary concern. And not without good reason.

But there are a number of ways, not even high-apple-pie-in-the-sky ways, that the Dodgers offense could exceed the lowest expectations and prove adequate, if not above average. Here are some potential upsides for the batsmen:

250 total bases from Rafael Furcal
The Dodgers want Furcal to be reasonably healthy and reasonably productive. Reaching this milestone would indicate that Furcal was successful on both fronts. (Throw in about 50 walks and double-digit steals to top it off.)

The challenge: The 33-year-old hasn’t reached 250 total bases since his first year as a Dodger in 2006, when he had 291. In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games but struggled badly at the plate (probably playing at less than 100 percent); the following year he was on pace for a great season but couldn’t make it into more than 97 games. The problem with Furcal seems to be that he is simply not a quick healer these days.

The hope: Furcal could miss 30 games and still reach the plateau if his bat doesn’t take a holiday. Knowing the Dodgers have Jamey Carroll as a backup in the majors and Dee Gordon or Ivan De Jesus in the minors, the team can afford to give him days off or even a quick run on the disabled list to recover from lighter ailments in order to preserve him for the long haul.

2009 calls, and Matt Kemp answers
A year ago, we were wondering how Kemp might improve on his banner 2009 season. Today, everyone would be happy if he merely matched it. Lest we forget, that was a season, at age 24, when Kemp had a .352 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 34 steals in 42 attempts and defense that made you gasp, but not in horror.

The challenge: Finding out if Kemp still has a 2009 in him. Can he adjust, both to the pitchers who fooled him in 2010 and to the level of mental approach required of him over a full season?

The hope: It’s not unusual for players to take a step back before they take their next step forward. The Dodgers hope the presence of Davey Lopes will help provide the spring in Kemp’s step. Want a statistical beacon to look toward? Kemp’s batting average on balls in play last year was .295, after averaging .364 the previous three seasons. A little luck could go a long way.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireDioner Navarro



Dioner Navarro proves his signing wasn’t a clerical error

“I’ve made a huge mistake,” Gob Bluth of “Arrested Development” might have said had he woken up one morning and realized he had signed the once-and-future Dodger catcher to a $1 million contract after Navarro slogged out a .528 OPS in 2010.

The challenge: It wasn’t only 2010. Over the past two seasons, Navarro has a .263 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage in 163 games. Yes, offensive expectations are lower for a catcher, but that’s just useless. The Dodgers need their backup catcher to succeed because Rod Barajas can’t play every day (nor would you want him to), but investing too much patience in Navarro could be an investment in a black hole.

The hope: Navarro is still only 27, still only two seasons removed from a .349 OBP and .407 slugging. Totals like that would more than do the trick. Why the Dodgers think Navarro can recover, I cannot tell you, but this isn’t the stereotypical Ned Colletti signing of a veteran on the downslope of his career. This was a belief signing, a buy-low on a player who could still be entering his prime. Perhaps Navarro’s 2011 will show us why at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.

James Loney stops hitting like Joe Shlabotnik
Kemp gets all the grief in the mainstream press, but for New School fans, it’s Loney who’s the bigger target. His RBI totals (especially relative to his opportunities) and his defense don’t make up for the overall production the Dodgers could really use from their first baseman.

The challenge: Among other things, proving that not one but two seasons of sub-.400 slugging percentage were just a pause that refreshes. And then there’s overcoming a walk-to-strikeout ratio that went from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55 last year. And then … well, you get the idea.

The hope: Loney had an .803 OPS heading into the All-Star break last season, which isn’t exactly Albert Pujols, but it’s something to cling to. Folks still love his stroke, a stroke that delivered 19 homers, a .372 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage in his first 144 career games. Are we really to believe that Loney peaked at age 23?

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAndre Ethier


Andre Ethier is no platoon player

Ethier had an .846 OPS in 72 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2006. That production has declined each and every year since, down to .625 in 178 PA last season.

The challenge: Actually, protecting that pivotal pinkie might be Ethier’s biggest 2011 worry, but presuming he can, the decline against lefties is more than a bit worrying. Four years of decline is tough to stomach even for a player of Ethier’s overall ability.

The hope: Ethier, who will be 29 in April, was on an MVP pace for the first several weeks of last season, so with loads of room to improve against lefties, his best year might still be ahead of him. The alternative is that the Dodgers softly begin resting him against lefties if a fellow by the name of Jerry Sands keeps knocking at the door.

Jerry Sands knocks at the door
The power-hitting 23-year-old minor-leaguer with all of 68 games above Class A has been perhaps the top story in the early days of spring training, as Dodgers fans unhappy with the current third-outfielder conglomerate look longingly for a savior.

The challenge: Handling temptation. Sands’ massive inexperience at the higher levels of the game makes the script all too easy to write – an early taste of success followed by a faceplant against major-league breaking pitches.

The hope: In 2006, Ethier and Kemp came up as rookies and, while they didn’t win permanent starting jobs right away, made unmistakable contributions toward that year’s division title. The Dodgers can’t expect Sands to become rookie of the year, but it’s not crazy to dream he (or Trayvon Robinson) could provide some lift to the sagging outfield picture.

A midseason trade gives offense a new gear
For all the talk of how the McCourt ownership has hamstrung player acquisitions, the Dodgers have not been silent at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly was no Manny Ramirez 2008, but he was a major splurge for a team barely hanging on in more ways than one. It’s sensible to assume that unless the Dodgers fall completely out of the race, Colletti will have the BlackBerry working.

The challenge: Making the trade worthwhile, both in terms of what comes in (spare us Scott Podsednik, please) and what goes out. If Rubby De La Rosa continues his rapid progress, and anyone from the group including Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller and Chris Withrow bounces back, the Dodgers will have no shortage of trade chips in pitching alone. But you don’t want to use them unwisely, not at all.

The hope: Right player at the right time, ideally without giving up the primo minor-league talent. They’ve done it before; could they do it again?

Dec 29

Talk about your backloaded deals: How about Cliff Lee?

The full value of this post is deferred until 2013 …

  • Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors took a look at backloaded deals around the majors. Here’s a sample: Cliff Lee’s new deal with the Phillies averages $24 million per year, but he’ll receive only $11 million in 2011.

    In 2015, when Lee is poised to turn 37, he will be guaranteed $25 million. In 2016, when Lee is poised to turn 38, he will be due $27.5 million in salary or receive a $12.5 million buyout just for breathing. And the $27.5 million becomes guaranteed if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings in 2014-15.

    The Phillies are taking a risk on the future in order to increase their chances of winning in the present. Might work, might not. But as Dierkes shows, several teams are going the deferred route. Deferred payments are not inherently mistakes. Whom you are paying is much more important then when you are paying them.
  • At Fangraphs, Jesse Wolfersberger charts the offenses of the National League in terms of how well they got on base and how efficiently they drove those runners in last season.  The Dodgers are in the bad quadrant — below average in both categories.  Though they weren’t far from being in the good quadrant, we know that in terms of on-base percentage, they’ll be moving backward unless some holdovers post some significant improvement.
  • If you really think dating a celebrity was the problem, then how come so many ballplayers who don’t date celebrities suck?
Dec 10

Should Jamey Carroll start for the ’11 Dodgers?


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireIn 2010, Jamey Carroll had an OBP of .375 against lefties and .380 against righties.

Last season, the Dodgers had seven players with an on-base percentage of at least .330 and a minimum of 100 plate appearances. Three of those players (Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin, Blake DeWitt) are gone, a fourth is the oft-injured Rafael Furcal, and a fifth (A.J. Ellis) will be at best a part-timer trying to prove that he wasn’t a one-month wonder.

That leaves Andre Ethier and Jamey Carroll. This short post is about Carroll.

Carroll, arguably the Dodgers’ third-string second-baseman when 2010 began, ended up becoming an almost shockingly pivotal player for the team, posting a career-high .379 OBP at age 36. Career highs at age 36 scream fluke, but the late-blooming Carroll does have a career OBP of .355 and has reached that level four of the past five years.

That .355 is still better than almost anyone else on the roster can offer. There’s Ethier and, depending how much they play, Furcal and Ellis. James Loney’s career OBP is in the ballpark at .348. Casey Blake was at .363 in 2009, before falling to .320 last year. Matt Kemp hasn’t been at that level since 2007, and Juan Uribe has never come close.

Blake and Uribe, who play Carroll’s two primary positions, offer power that Carroll can’t touch, but in terms of overall offensive value, Carroll actually had the better 2010, whether you look at Baseball Prospectus’ total average (Carroll .283, Blake .267, Uribe .266) or Fangraph’s wOBA (Carroll .329, Uribe .322, Blake .317). And then there’s this idle thought: He’s probably not a worse outfielder than Jay Gibbons would be, though I tend to doubt a playoff team starts a Carroll in left.

What this means for 2011, I don’t know. Carroll turns 37 in February. Assuming no other major acquisitions for the Dodger infield, Carroll will probably start the season on the bench, serving as a pinch-hitter, defensive replacement and spot starter until someone gets hurt. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Carroll actually was deserving of a starting spot somewhere in that 2011 Dodger lineup, depending at least in part on whether Blake is in a faster decline. In particular, Carroll might be a good No. 2 hitter behind Furcal, helping him set up Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Uribe and the rest.

We’ll see how things look in March …

* * *

  • Savvy post over at True Blue L.A. this morning, in which that site’s denizens decipher clues about the Dodger roster from a picture of Juan Uribe with a whiteboard listing the Dodger roster in the background. Included in the sleuthing: 1) George Sherrill (headed for Atlanta on a $1.2 million contract) was long gone from the Dodgers minds before Russell Martin and Trent Oeltjen, 2) J.D. Closser and Jon Huber look like they’re getting non-roster invitations to Spring Training, 3) as Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness noticed, John Lindsey, sadly, might be the next player to come off the team.
  • Madison Square Garden is going to buy the Fabulous Great Western L.A. Forum, according to Billboard.biz (via L.A. Observed).
  • Bill Plaschke of the Times uses Carl Crawford signing with Boston to argue that no one wants to play baseball in Los Angeles anymore, ignoring the mountain of evidence to the contrary. At first, it appears Plaschke is talking only about $100 million players, but then he brings up names like Todd Zeile and you have to ask, did Plaschke not see (for example) Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda basically skip free agency to sign at less competitive rates with the Dodgers just in the past six weeks?
  • Charley Steiner is getting an honorary doctorate from his alma mater at Bradley, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Not to overload on Clayton Kershaw’s wedding, but Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has wedding dance video. The kid’s got some moves!
Aug 02

A team of Garret Andersons

The Dodgers have had 602 plate appearances since the All-Star Break, close to the equivalent of a single individual season. Their offense in that time: .199 batting average, .268 on-base percentage and .297 slugging percentage.  By comparison, Garret Anderson’s numbers for the season are not much different – or aren’t different enough, anyway: .184/208/.276.

Before the break, the Dodgers were at .269/.338/.406. Now that’s different.

Averaging 4.8 runs per game before the break, the Dodgers have averaged 2.1 since.

Jun 27

Kershaw LXVII: O Kershaw, Curtain, Lights


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Andre Ethier has as many home runs with at least two runners on base in 2010 as the rest of the Dodgers combined.

You know what I look forward to seeing? The Dodgers breaking open a close game or rallying with a three-run home run.

But in 74 games this year, the Dodgers have only eight three-run homers, along with two grand slams by Andre Ethier. That total comes in 443 plate appearances with at least two runners on base.

The Dodgers were on a pretty good pace until shortly before Ethier’s pinkie injury. In nearly seven weeks since May 11, the Dodgers have two three-run home runs.

Manny Ramirez is 16 for 31 (.516) with three doubles and six walks with at least two runners on base, but doesn’t have a homer this year in those situations.

James Loney, who broke the 50 RBI barrier Saturday, is second on the team with two three-run homers. He is 21 for 53 (.396) with four doubles, two homers and four walks with at least two runners on base.

Here are the 10 three- or four-run home runs.

  • April 13: Andre Ethier, ahead 6-2 in the sixth.
  • April 16: Andre Ethier (grand slam), ahead 3-0 in the second.
  • April 20: Matt Kemp, down 9-6 in the eighth.
  • April 30: James Loney, ahead 2-1 in the third.
  • May 1: Andre Ethier, down 1-0 in the third.
  • May 4: James Loney, down 11-3 in the eighth.
  • May 6: Andre Ethier (grand slam), tied 3-3 in the ninth.
  • May 11: Russell Martin, ahead 4-3 in the eighth.
  • June 7: Blake DeWitt, ahead 7-1 in the fifth.
  • June 16: Andre Ethier, ahead 2-0 in the sixth.

The Dodgers are actually pretty decent at keeping rallies going. But sometimes, you just want to see them hit the heights.

Jun 04

Kershaw LXIII: Kershawt My Dad Says


Paul Spinelli
With two hits, Chad Billingsley is the Dodgers’ Babe Ruth this year. (This picture is from last year.)

Even by pitcher standards, Dodger pitchers are stinking it up at the plate this year.

They’re the worst in the NL this season by almost every measure. Los Angeles pitchers have a .178 OPS at the plate, while their top NL West rival, San Diego, is best in the league at .502. (The Dodgers have an .086 batting average on balls in play, while the Padres are at .310.)

Through 54 games, they have a grand total of five hits — fewer hits than walks, in fact. That’s the one bright spot for Dodger pitchers — they’re tied for the league league in free passes received with eight. Last season, Dodger pitchers had 40 hits and 14 walks.

Chad Billingsley — who was the Dodgers’ best-hitting pitcher last year, not Randy Wolf (though Wolf had a noteworthy 11 RBI) — leads the Dodgers with two hits. Clayton Kershaw (1 for 17), Carlos Monasterios (1 for 5) and Jeff Weaver (1 for 1) have the others. Hiroki Kuroda and John Ely are a combined 0 for 34.

Dodger pitchers have no extra-base hits this year and one RBI – a sacrifice fly by the 0-for-6 Charlie Haeger. They do lead the NL in sacrifice hits.

Forget blaming Manny Ramirez, Russell Martin or anyone else for their slumps. It’s time for the Dodger arms to get in the swing!

* * *

  • Casey Blake went for an MRI, Joe Torre told reporters today.
  • Here’s one more take on the unperfect game and instant replay — I know we’ve overdosed on this stuff, but it’s from Josh Wilker so I can’t not push it.
Jun 04

Torre and Mattingly want Dodger batters to slow down to get better

The Dodgers are slumping at the plate mainly because of impatient at-bats, Joe Torre and Don Mattingly told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“I hope guys aren’t trying to hit home runs, because we’re not that kind of team,” Mattingly said after (Thursday’s) game. “But in a 0-0 game that goes into extra innings, guys always like to be the hero. That is what we talked about, that hitting home runs is all good, but you have to keep fighting for those hits. I just told them we need to get back to making sure we’re doing what we do, because we’re not a sit-back-and-wait-for-the-home-run kind of team.”

In reality, the collective struggle goes back more than a week, to the start of the last road trip. It began as the Dodgers were being shut out in two of three games in Chicago, with Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster sailing through eight innings on 104 pitches in the opener. Then, on Saturday night at Colorado, Aaron Cook pitched into the seventh inning on fewer than 100 pitches in the only game the Rockies would win in that series.

All three Diamondbacks starters went at least eight innings, and while all three threw at least 115 pitches, the fact the Dodgers didn’t make them sweat much in terms of pitching out of jams was significant.

And then, finally, it all came to a head when Atlanta’s Kris Medlen needed fewer than 100 to pitch four batters deep into the eighth inning.

“We aren’t necessarily having real good at-bats,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. “The opposing pitchers’ pitch counts haven’t been real high. I think we aren’t having the quality at-bats we had maybe a week or so ago. We’re just going to have to keep fighting our way out of it. I think it comes down to trying to do too much. Especially with the extra-inning games the last couple of days, guys might have been trying to hit home runs.”

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. just posted a comparison between the first thirds of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Among others, Russell Martin is doing even worse now than he was after 54 games in 2009.

* * *

Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone has a thoughtful take on the future of web journalism, both generally and as it relates to Dodger coverage. I agree with just about all of it – even the parts where I’m not quoted. (This is where I’d insert a smiley face if I did that sort of thing in my posts.)

Moriyama passes along the pessimistic view that even if an All-Star team of Dodger bloggers were assembled, most readers still wouldn’t be willing to pay for it, which exemplifies why journalism as a business is in such dire condition. The Irony Committee approves of the fact that I agree even though much of my current career depends on me being wrong about this.

* * *

  • How my mind works: My first reaction upon hearing that Juan Samuel had been named interim manager of the Baltimore Orioles was that I would have thought the way he stunk things up in the second half of the 1991 season for the Dodgers would have disqualified him. Obviously, though, that’s not the case. Congratuations, Juan, and good luck.
  • Xavier Paul returned to the Albuquerque Isotopes just like he left: with a three-hit game.
  • Blue Heaven links to a handwritten journal of Wee Willie Keeler’s up for auction.
May 12

Diamondbacks walk but can’t hide: Ramirez blast lifts Dodgers, 6-3


Ross D. Franklin/AP
Manny Ramirez follows through, literally and figuratively.

A year ago, Andre Ethier was being told he couldn’t hit at all unless Manny Ramirez was batting behind him.

Tonight, the Arizona Diamondbacks told Ethier that they were so scared of how well he can hit, they’d rather face Ramirez.

It was an awe-wow moment that punctuated the Dodgers’ 6-3 victory over Arizona Wednesday, yet not at all shocking considering Ethier’s unbelievable season – and it was hardly a slight against Ramirez, who brought a 1.064 OPS for 2010 into the at-bat. But with runners on second and third with two out in the top of the seventh inning, and the Dodgers leading 3-2, Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson simply didn’t feel he could mess around with Ethier, who boosted his Triple Crown numbers earlier in the game with a two-run homer.

The logic was simple: Walking the left-handed Ethier eliminated the platoon advantage for the Dodgers and created a force at every base for Ramirez, who turns 38 at the end of the month. But still, here it was, the bases being loaded on purpose for one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters (still) – only because the Dodgers have come up with a player 10 years younger and even more dangerous.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Edwin Jackson wipes his forehead after loading the bases ahead of Manny Ramirez in the seventh inning.

Jackson shouldn’t have even been in the situation. He had pitched well overall, allowing three runs on nine baserunners in 6 2/3 innings and striking out eight before the intentional walk. He had already thrown 114 pitches when Ethier came up.  But the Arizona bullpen has been such dogmeat that Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch decided he didn’t have a better hope against Ramirez with the bases loaded than the gassed Jackson.

Ramirez fouled off two pitches to fall behind 0-2 in the count, but on the next pitch, he cannoned a ball high off the center-field wall, 407 feet away, easily a grand slam in Dodger Stadium but a mere three-run double tonight. The smash blasted  Jackson’s valiant effort into ruins, and gave the Dodgers a most exuberant and comfortable four-run lead.

The moment stole the spotlight from what I think we can call a vintage Hiroki Kuroda performance. Kuroda’s first four pitches of the game were low and outside, but he didn’t walk a man after that in 7 1/3 innings, while allowing three runs on six hits and striking out nine. The third run – the run that would have tied the game were it not for Ethier and Ramirez – came across on a sacrifice fly off Hong-Chih Kuo in the eighth, after walks by Ronald Belsiario and Kuo loaded the bases and brought the tying run to the plate. But nothing more came across.

Jonathan Broxton, who hadn’t been needed in the series up to now, fell short of a 1-2-3 inning for the sixth time in his past seven chances but got the save, interspersing a single and walk with three strikeouts, giving him 22 in 12 2/3 innings this year.

The Dodgers won their ninth in their past 12 games, reached the .500 mark (17-17) for the first time since they were 7-7 on April 21 and moved within two games of second-place San Francisco. And another threshold in Andre Ethier’s mammoth season was crossed.

Apr 16

Russell Martin deserves a hand, if not a nap


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Back in the home opener, Russell Martin had no idea of how rough the middle of his week would get.

Last May, I wrote about Orlando Hudson in the midst of his hot start to 2009:

I’m not going to attempt to tell you how long Hudson can perform at an All-Star caliber level. Rather, my point in these giddy times for Dodger fans is to remind us that there was serious doubt whether Hudson, coming off a traumatic 2008 wrist injury, could play this well at any point in the remainder of his career — for a month, for a week, for even a day. That we now know he can is a revelation.

Things will go up and down, but just setting the ups this high is juicy. Right now, this is looking like a magical signing.

That Hudson didn’t finish the season in the starting lineup shows how a hot start doesn’t guarantee anything, but I do feel it’s worth making a similar point about Russell Martin.

In a year where expectations for Martin couldn’t have been lower – particularly after he missed most of Spring Training – the Dodger catcher leads the major leagues in on-base percentage and is 19th overall in OPS. Martin always has had a good eye, but he’s even slugging .591, compared to .329 last season and .256 last April.

Again, there are no assurances he won’t slump, especially if the Dodger pitchers keep wearing him out, but it’s nice to know that he can get this hot even for a little while.

* * *

Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness makes explicit what I implied in my last post: The Dodgers really only have Russ Ortiz, Carlos Monasterios and Ramon Troncoso available in relief of Vicente Padilla tonight, unless they make a more dramatic move. (Petriello includes Jeff Weaver among the available — Joe Torre included both Weaver and George Sherrill in his pregame conversation with reporters — but I can’t imagine the Dodgers want to go there tonight.)

If the Dodgers fall behind big early, then you pretty much can burn Ortiz and Monasterios to get through the game. But in a competitive game, the Dodgers figure to be at a huge bullpen disadvantage if Padilla has to leave before the eighth inning.

I’ve never been all that high on Padilla, but I kind of feel he’s due for a good outing. Just a gut thing I’m having.

* * *

Torre said that the day-after reports on Hong-Chih Kuo’s rehab outing showed no problems, and that he’s due to pitch again in a minor-league game Sunday. Torre pointed out that Ronald Belisario isn’t eligible to make rehab appearances, so that he will come straight to the Dodgers when his command is present.

Torre also said that he doesn’t consider carrying 13 or 11 pitchers on the staff to be an option at this time. Twelve it is.

* * *

One pitching bright spot: As a team, the Dodgers have struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. Four pitchers are over the 9.0 mark, led not by Jonathan Broxton (15.4) but Charlie Haeger (16.7).

Apr 11

Don’t fall prey to the RISP bogeyman

Doug Benc/Getty Images
Matt Kemp is feeling bad tonight after making an error on this play and striking out with the tying run on third in the ninth inning, but he still had a good first week.

No Dodger fan likes the team flunking with runners in scoring position. But just because it’s frustrating doesn’t mean the Dodgers should succeed all the time. It’s not as if your odds for winning the lottery increase the more you want to win.

Okay, not the greatest analogy, but it gets us headed in the right direction. Whenever a team wastes scoring opportunities, you start to see people toss around tidbits like batting average with runners in scoring position. This is a stat that gives stats a bad name.  Batting average is a stat of very limited value, and tacking it on to runners in scoring position doesn’t make it any more useful.

Batting average with RISP doesn’t take into account sacrifice flies, run-producing groundouts or walks. It doesn’t take into account the fact that often, an RISP at-bat comes against a pitcher brought in for a particular matchup to defuse that situation. It doesn’t reward you for getting a runner home from first base (or from home plate). Most of all, it give you any indication of how often a team has those situations.  Exaggerating to make a point, if the Dodgers had 30 at-bats in nine innings with RISP, succeeding in only six of them wouldn’t mean the offense was unproductive.

The idea of a clutch hitter is a dubious measurement to begin with, because clutch hitting tends to fluctuate from season to season. Looking for clutch hitting in a team is an even less useful activity. Batting average with RISP doesn’t come with enough context to have hardly any meaning.

In their first six games of the season, the Dodgers are batting .260 with RISP. That’s not going to light anyone’s pants afire, though it’s respectable. But then you see that the Dodgers have had 95 RISP plate appearances, an average of 15.8 per game – that’s more than one per inning. In those 95 plate appearances, the team has reached base 29 times while also delivering five sacrifice flies and four sacrifices – achieving the goal of an RISP at-bat at a .400 rate, even before you starting talking about productive outs.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
Even after today’s strikeout, Kemp has a .308 batting average plus a sacrifice fly with RISP and has seven RBI in six games.

Through Saturday’s games, the Dodgers were second in the National League in RISP plate appearances and second in RISP runs and RBI (before adding three more RISP runs today). Matt Kemp struck out with the tying run on third and one out in the ninth inning today in what was a bad-looking at-bat, but how much should we get on his case when, for the season, he is batting .308 with a sacrifice fly in RISP situations? How much better is he supposed to be? The Dodgers are  tied for third in the NL in runs scored – averaging 6.0 runs per game with at least five runs in every game but Wednesday’s – how much better are they supposed to be?

When you lose three one-run games on a six-game road trip, it’s natural to look at the what-might-have beens – and the Dodgers’ outs with RISP provide many. But to be fair, there is only one loss this season for which the offense can reasonably be blamed. The Dodgers might have some issues to upset their catnaps on their flight home from Florida, but RISP is just not one of them.

There are some people who decry the excess of esoteric stats that populate the game today, but my guess is that a lot of them think batting average with RISP as a good one. However, this is honestly a case where simplicity is for the best. You want to know how your offense is doing, you really are better off trashing batting average with RISP, and just looking at runs scored.

* * *

  • More on the rarity of a knuckleballer striking out 12 batters in a game from ESPN’s TMI blog. This isn’t confirmed, but it appears Charlie Haeger came within one strikeout of tying Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough for the most by a knuckleballer in a game in at least the past 40 years.
  • The ever-awesome Vin Scully Is My Homeboy posted a great Sport Magazine cover shot of a young Maury Wills.
  • Hugh Bernreuter of the Saginaw News (via Baseball Think Factory) writes about Dodger prospect Brian Cavazos-Galvez’s lost relationship with his father, former Dodger minor leaguer Balvino Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez hasn’t let it derail him, and when he’s not playing baseball, he volunteers for Special Olympics and Challenger Little League. “My uncle (Timmy Cavazos) has Down’s Syndrome, so I have experience being around those kids,” Cavazos-Galvez said. “Other guys are kind of scared to be around those kids or don’t know how to act. I love it.”
  • Former Dodger pitcher Edwin Jackson hit his first career home run in Arizona’s team-record 13-run fourth inning. Jackson allowed four runs over seven innings and 98 pitches to get credit for a 15-6 victory.
  • Marvin Bernard admits to steroid use? Marvin Bernard? Something tells me this one won’t be analyzed to death by the pundits.
  • Top MLB prospects Steven Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman each impressed in their U.S. professional debuts, writes Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.
  • John Lindsey went 3 for 4 today, with his first homer of the year, to raise his 2010 Albuquerque on-base percentage to .632 and slugging percentage to .941.