Mar 06

Torre talks about going without lefty on bench – isn’t this unthinkable?

Dodger manager Joe Torre says he is contemplating going without a left-handed hitter on the bench, according to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.  I can’t believe it. I can’t believe any manager would do it. It puts your team at such a disadvantage, by allowing opponents to throw their best right-handed relievers against you at will.

But it’s true that the Dodgers have basically put themselves behind the right-handed 8-ball by signing non-southpaws Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Ronnie Belliard and Reed Johnson this offseason. And with the latest news that Anderson won’t be ready to face live pitching for at least a week, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com – along with ongoing health concerns about Brian Giles and Doug Mientkiewicz, and the team’s reluctance to make the inexperienced Xavier Paul their lefty off the bench – the Dodgers have to at least plan for the possibility that come Opening Day, they will have no lefty options better than their righty ones.

Torre faces a problem because, as was noted when the team was signing Johnson, the Dodgers don’t have room for 12 pitchers and a lefty bench player unless a) Blake DeWitt starts the season in Albuquerque or b) the team does something it went out of its way to avoid in 2009, by making a non-shortstop the backup to Rafael Furcal. (Remember, the Dodgers kept Juan Castro as a backup basically all of last season, and that was with Mark Loretta having more shortstop experience than Jamey Carroll has.)

Even though DeWitt is off to a nice start after two Spring Training games, he’s still got a ways to go before the starting second base job is his.  But if he wins it, the Dodgers would face such a roster crunch that the next most logical choice might be to cut Belliard, rather than go without a lefty pinch-hitter. After all, Belliard (whose contract isn’t officially guaranteed yet) is really only with the team in case DeWitt needs more seasoning.

If Giles or Mientkiewicz were healthy, I’d recommend keeping them over Belliard. However, Belliard projects to be better against righties than the over-the-hill Anderson, so choosing Anderson over Belliard is a bit unsavory.

A different solution would be to go with 11 pitchers, but as I said all last year, the Dodgers really do have a pitching staff that benefits from a 12th man. Maybe someone should run the numbers, but I think the cushion the seventh reliever provides helps the team more than a sixth bench player would.

The Dodgers are going to have to bite one of these bullets, and after shooting through all the different options, the best one might be to go without a true backup shortstop. With Furcal looking much healthier this year, backup shortstop will be one of the team’s lower priorities come Opening Day. If Furcal gets hurt, I’d much rather see Carroll at shortstop at the end of a close game than see a righty batter against a tough righty reliever. Neither Green nor Chin-Lung Hu would be likely to help the team more than even Anderson would.

The question is whether Green or Hu’s defense makes either a better choice for the roster than Belliard. I do think, if DeWitt starts at second base, that’s where the choice would be.

If the Dodgers do the heretofore unthinkable and keep an all-righty bench, I’d bet the house it doesn’t last more than two weeks. A team should have more than one left-handed hitter on the bench. Having none, strategically, is just a nightmare.

Mar 03

Ronald Belisario trouble: Much ado about almost nothing

It bothers me that the Dodgers seem more upset about relief pitcher Ronald Belisario’s current visa problems than they were about his arrest for driving under the influence last summer.

I understand that with the DUI still awaiting adjudication, there’s a presumption of innocence for Belisario, who pleaded not guilty. So my point is not that the Dodgers should have immediately disciplined Belisario for the arrest.

Rather, it seems to me if you’re going to cut the guy some slack for something that serious, you should do the same for his visa issues.

Yeah, Belisario messed up with his paperwork – for the second year in a row.  It stinks. But it happened. Yet, even as manager Joe Torre tells Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that the situation is now out of Belisario’s hands and at the mercy of the U.S. government, general manager Ned Colletti is still in a snit.

“While he is sitting in Venezuela, other people are here trying to make the club,” Colletti said. “Maybe one of them will take food off his table.”

Forgive me for thinking Colletti is sounding a little like Inspector Javert.

Meanwhile, all this talk about the Dodgers losing Belisario to waivers continues to be overblown, as I suggested a week ago. Jackson reports that the Dodgers can “suspend Belisario without pay and require him to stay behind in extended spring training.” So Belisario can be punished more than amply for his sins, without the Dodgers losing him forever.

Odds remain that Belisario won’t miss any more regular season time because of his visa problems in 2010 than he missed when he went on the disabled list in 2009 – for an injury that some would argue happened because of the Dodgers’ irresponsibility in their use of him. The Dodgers, as Colletti suggests, have plenty of candidates to replace Belisario in the short-term – it’s not as if his visa problems will make or break their season.

The attention to this issue, it seems to me, is the result of having not enough things to complain about. The McCourts aren’t a presence in Arizona right now, and the silly furor over Manny Ramirez last week has died down. It’s almost like people are having too good a time – so by all means, let’s make an example of Belisario.

And I know I’m asking too much, but I just wish the attention were centered on an issue that might actually mean something.

Feb 26

Charging toward peace of mind over Ronald Belisario

Wherein I discover the master card to deal with Ronald Belisario’s visa problems that have kept him from joining the diners’ club on the American express …

There are tremors emanating from Camelback Ranch that Belisario’s career as a Dodger might be in jeopardy, because his inability to secure a visa has kept him from reporting to Spring Training on time. The fear is that he won’t be ready for the season opener, and with no minor-league options remaining, the Dodgers would risk losing their great find from 2009.

The concern seems a bit overwrought. First of all, it’s not as if Belisario had a full Spring Training last season. Visa problems delayed him a year ago as well, and once he arrived, he spent most of his time in minor-league camp facing low-caliber competition, throwing only five innings with the big-leaguers all spring.  We’re not talking about needing to get someone ready to throw six innings on Opening Day. He just needs to be able to get a few guys out at a time when the season begins.

But if for some reason Belisario just doesn’t seem prepared to face regular-season hitters by April 5, there’s always the disabled list. Though there are rules against stashing healthy players on baseball’s injured reserve, I can’t imagine that it will be a tough sell that a pitcher with a shortened spring and a history of arm trouble has come down with soreness.  If other major-league teams were to challenge this, it might be the first time ever. And for all we know, the soreness might well be real. He is a pitcher with a shortened spring and a history of arm trouble, after all.

The Dodgers can worry whether Belisario’s 2009 performance was a fluke, but I doubt they need to worry that their prized set-up man will get away from them against their will. The main thing is to treat him carefully once he arrives, and make sure he doesn’t rush himself into an ugly year like Will Ohman or Cory Wade had in 2009.

Feb 23

Potential postponement of McCourt trial further clouds 2010

When you get right down to it, I just want baseball to be about baseball.

And so the news today from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourt divorce trial will quite possibly be delayed past its scheduled May 24 start, that it won’t necessarily be resolved before season’s end, is depressing.

My inclination would be just to shut it out — wake me up when the trial ends — but doing what I do, I can’t shut it out. The stature of the story is so large that it just takes over. Matt Kemp could hit three home runs in a game this summer, but if there’s another divorce court revelation, that becomes the news, because it affects The Fate of the Franchise.

Last year, we were blindsided by Manny Ramirez’s suspension. Thank goodness we didn’t know it was coming, because we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the team’s hot start otherwise. But no matter how well things go this year for the Dodgers, we know that dreary news about the ownership is lurking. And if things go poorly for the Dodgers, forget about it. It’s going to be a very grumpy year. Cloudy with a chance of screwballs.

Dodger fans are an impatient lot in general these days, waiting for another World Series title like prisoners in an LAX flight delay. The McCourt saga takes those fans and sticks a smelly seatmate next to them who won’t stop talking. Everything that’s bad will be made worse; everything that’s good will be temporary.

I can picture the thrilling moments; I can picture myself enjoying them. But then, around the corner, I see the latest McCourt news, and people getting twisted in knots over it.

All I can say is, don’t go looking for reasons to be cynical or bitter about the Dodgers. They’ll find you. No matter how low the McCourts go, try to let yourself enjoy the games. Whoever owns the Dodgers, don’t let them own you. It’s baseball.

* * *

Ken Gurnick’s preseason feature for MLB.com on Clayton Kershaw is a good one. There are the requisite Spring Training bromides from Kershaw — in addition to an announcement of his engagement to Texas A&M senior Ellen Melson — but also some nuts-and-bolts talk from the young lefty as well as pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

… For his part, Kershaw knows that he’s fully responsible for his high pitch counts.

“What I want to do is learn how to minimize my pitches. The way to do that is by fastball command, that’s huge for me,” he said. “I worked on that a lot this offseason by making my bullpen [sessions] as game-like as possible. Last year my bullpens were just practice, to make sure my arm felt right.

“This year the focus is on game situations so my fastball command is something I can always rely on when my other pitches aren’t going great. I need to throw breaking pitches over for strikes. Even though I’m not a master of the changeup by any means, that pitch can really get you out of there with as few pitches as possible. If I minimize my pitches, there won’t be a focus on how many pitches I’ve thrown.” …

The article indicates that some of the pitch count restriction on Kershaw will be loosened this year. That’s fine to an extent, but the thing to keep in mind is that despite an additional year under his belt, he’s still only going to be 22 in the 2010 season. His arm is still too young to leave completely unprotected.

“That came up in the staff meeting,” pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. “I’m not saying we’ll take the gloves off, but at the same time, we feel much better about how he bounced back and stayed strong and consistent through last season. We’re in a situation where we feel we can loosen the reins a little bit and slowly increase him.”

A year ago, by the way, Kershaw hosted a baseball camp that helped raise funds for a trip by his fiancee and her family to help Zambian orphans.

* * *

  • Every member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster has reported early except for the three Rs: Ronald Belisario, Rafael Furcal and Ronnie Belliard, according to Gurnick.
  • The Dodgers will play three March exhibition games in Taiwan instead of two, Gurnick confirmed.
  • Congrats to Jeff Weaver, who will miss some training camp for new dad duty (and dooty). Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that Weaver said he will opt out of his contract with the Dodgers rather than accept a minor-league assignment.
  • Some fun promotions are on tap for the coming season, including a Vin Scully poster. The younger generation of Dodgers is also featured prominently in several giveaways.
  • I’ve been meaning to talk about the ticket sales news from Monday, but in case I don’t get to it, here’s a link to the official release.
  • From 50 years ago today, here’s a snapshot of pitchers including Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax kicking off Spring Training, offered by Keith Thursby of the Daily Mirror.
  • A slideshow of the key players in the McCourt divorce drama was provided by Lawrence Delevingne of Business Insider Law Review (link via Rob McMillin’s 6-4-2).
  • Finally, I just wanted to pass along this Variety blog post of no significance: “Series I dream about: George Costanza on ‘Big Love.’”
Feb 22

Manny Ramirez speaks in tongues – and people listen

The way people picked apart Manny Ramirez’s statements today for significance was crazy. Crazy, I says!

It’s Manny Ramirez.  If there’s one guy in baseball you judge by actions instead of words, it’s Manny Ramirez.  And yet, the baseball world got their engines all revved up, over what?  Over nothing.  Over a guy saying what everyone knew. Over a guy talking in such stream-of-consciousness that if he read his own quotes, he’d probably not recognize them.

In a world that rages against Tiger Woods for being robotic or disingenuous, here’s Ramirez telling it like it is.  Granted, what “it is” can change from one minute to the next, but that’s kind of the point.  You can’t take what he says so seriously. We know he doesn’t.  We know this. We have years of intimate experience with this knowledge.

So why do people act like the opposite is true? Why do people act like they care about anything except how well he performs on the field after the games start?

Do you think that if Ramirez is hitting, people will care that he said anything bad? That if he isn’t hitting, people will care that he said all the right things?

I’m not nominating Ramirez for sainthood, but it’s just ridiculous how he became target practice today. It was like people trying to draw life lessons from a fortune cookie.

Manny was being Manny. And we were being us.

* * *

  • A couple of recent articles serve as reminders that no team – not even good teams – usually has a quality No. 5 starter. Paul Boye of Phillies Nation notes, for example, that No. 5 starters for the 2009 champion Yankees had a 6.63 ERA.  Chuck Brownson also touches on the subject at the Hardball Times. Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more.  (Previously on Dodger Thoughts: “Dodgers will pick a No. 5 starter – and another, and another …”)
  • Scott Elbert had another pain-free outing – “fantastic,” he said – reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Andrew Lambo, potential Dodger outfielder of the not-so-distant future, gets a profile from Memories of Kevin Malone.
  • Sports headlines from 40 years ago today: “Angels to Run Their Camp ‘Dodger Style.’”
  • The name speaks for itself: Everything Jerry Reuss.
Feb 21

Scott Elbert recovering from tendinitis

No. 5 starter candidate Scott Elbert had a recent bout of shoulder tendinitis, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but after being shut down for 10 days had a pain-free bullpen session Thursday. He is scheduled to throw again Monday.

In a separate blog post, Gurnick noted that reliever Travis Schlichting had a pretty significant health scare over the winter, dealing with Gilbert’s syndrome, “which results in increased bilirubin levels and, in Schlichting’s case, is believed to have caused fatigue and nausea that led to (a 30-pound) weight loss.”

Hiroki Kuroda and Hong-Chih Kuo, among others, are having no issues so far.

  • Vicente Padilla was throwing (stories about) bullets. Tony Jackson of ESPN.com/LA has details. If Padilla were a duck, Casey Blake might still have a beard.
  • The way Joe Torre talked about Jeff Weaver, according to Gurnick, a swingman role in the bullpen is his to lose.
  • For those interested in injured pitchers from 2009 that the Dodgers might have signed but ended up with Oakland instead, this Associated Press update tells us that Justin Duchsherer is having back troubles, but Ben Sheets is pounding the strike zone.
Feb 19

Logan White gave thumbs up to Eric Gagne signing

Dodger scouting guru Logan White told general manager Ned Colletti that he thought Eric Gagne would be “competitive” after watching Gagne throw this month, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Colletti added other thoughts about Gagne’s unlikely candidacy to make the Dodgers.

… Colletti said Gagne’s inclusion in the Mitchell Report was not a factor.

“He’s not the first player to sign a contract after being in the Mitchell Report and this also isn’t his first team since,” he said. …

Now, can Gagne go from Indy ball to make the cut for the Dodgers’ bullpen, one of the deepest in the league? Jonathan Broxton is the All-Star closer, former Orioles closer George Sherrill sets up, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo follow them with Ramon Troncoso now established in middle relief and Jeff Weaver the most likely swingman. That leaves maybe one spot up for grabs and about a dozen arms against which Gagne will compete. What are the chances?

“It’s too early to tell,” said Colletti. “But you don’t walk away from the opportunity to have somebody who has been really successful see where they’re at. It would be shortsighted if you don’t give people like that a chance. The bullpen is one of our stronger areas, but you have no idea what can happen over the next seven weeks, who gets hurt, who has lost it somewhere along the line. I’d rather have choices to make.”

* * *

Update: Russell Martin, “who focused on improving his flexibility last off-season, went back to his old strength-based training program this winter,” writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.

Feb 18

Down in ‘Jungle’-land: Eric Gagne signs minor-league deal

Eric Gagne has signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers, according to Dylan Hernandez of The Times, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and Tony Jackson of ESPN/LA, citing anonymous sources.

The odds remain against Gagne ever pitching in Dodger Stadium again, short of the organization bringing back the Oldtimers Game, and it’s almost certain he won’t break into the major-league bullpen by Opening Day. But apparently the Dodgers saw something in Gagne worth pursuing. I’m imagining there will be quite a roar if he takes the home mound one more time.

Gagne last pitched for the Dodgers on June 6, 2006 (coincidentally, the day Clayton Kershaw was drafted). After making his season debut four days earlier – nearly a year after his last major-league game – Gagne struck out two in a 14-pitch save against the Mets. There were reports he was ailing after the game,  but hope persisted he would return later in the year. Here’s my report from June 26 of that year.

Gagne said that he felt a little stiffness warming up in the bullpen before his last game June 6, but that it was nothing that he hadn’t felt in the past when he was healthy. But he thinks that when he entered the game, he overthrew a changeup – “rolled it over too much” – and tweaked the nerve. Subsequent treatment with anti-inflammatories did not help.

“It got better and we started some exercises, then it got sore again,” Johnston said.

The switch to neurontin seems to have brought renewed optimism, however cautious. If the progress continues, Gagne can resume exercises before moving forward, according to Johnston.

Gagne added that he isn’t sure that a rehabilitation assignment in AAA Las Vegas will be necessary, and that he could be on the Dodger Stadium mound in July.

“It’s not a bad injury,” Gagne said. “It’s just a nagging injury.”

Still, it has been a long, impatient road for Gagne, whose injury spiral began in March 2005 when he injured his knee during a Spring Training pepper drill. When asked how Gagne has handled his time on the sidelines, Johnston said sympathetically, “not very well.”

“He’s very frustrated,” Johnston said. “He’s such a competitor. He lives to be a big part of the team.”

Interviewing Gagne, it was easy to be swayed by the feeling that he knows his body, that he will be as patient during this rehabilitation as he says, that he will warm up as carefully in the future as he promises and ultimately, that he’s right to believe he will help the Dodgers this season. Walking away, it was hard not to feel paranoid that preventing further injury was beyond his control.

Can he really be on the mend? Why couldn’t he be on the mend? Fool me once and all that.

The implication was that further rest after Gagne’s pain disappeared was unneccessary, but the question I didn’t ask is whether that is a certainty.

Overall, Gagne and Johnston seemed quite humbled by the struggle.

After sitting out the remainder of 2006, Gagne pitched well in 31 games for Texas in 2007, but was traded to Boston and soon lost his remaining effectiveness, though he did end the 2008 season with 8 2/3 shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He had a rather nondescript 2009 pitching in a Canadian independent league.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com said that in his workout for the Rockies earlier this week, Gagne looked “noticeably lighter.”

Partly to rebuild the small shoulder muscles and partly to avoid some of the back pain that affected him in recent years, Gagne took up Ja Shin Do, a mixed-martial-arts-based workout in an extremely hot room, taught by Scottsdale grandmaster Andy Bauman. Former Rockies pitchers Shawn Estes (now with the Nationals) and Jeff Fassero and Dodgers catcher Russell Martin undergo similar workouts.

The result, Gagne said, is he is in better condition and his arm is “the best it’s felt in three or four years, easy.”

Well, if Estes, Fassero and Martin are doing it …

Despite my skepticism, I’m rooting for Gagne to make it back.

Feb 17

Ned Colletti believes Randy Wolf ‘would have taken’ arbitration

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti was interviewed on Sirius XM radio’s “Power Alley” by Seth Everett and Jim Duquette (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy), and he gave this explanation of why the Dodgers didn’t offer Randy Wolf salary arbitration. I had heard this from sources off the record, but this was the first time I believe I’ve heard it on the record.

“The reason (we didn’t offer arbitration) was we thought he would take it,” Colletti said. “At $12-13 million a year, we weren’t prepared to do that. And you know what, the people I’ve talked to since, that are very close to him, say that ‘You know what, he would have taken it.’ And I wasn’t prepared to pay him $12-13 million for one year, nor was I prepared to pay him $8 or $9 million for three years.”

The last part of the comment refers to a scenario where Wolf would have leveraged the potential eight-figure annual salary into a multiyear contract that would have been cheaper annually but ultimately guaranteed him much more money.

I still believe that the Dodgers should have offered Wolf arbitration. I do feel that Wolf, who had 2 1/2 sub-par seasons in a row before turning things around in mid-2008, is poised to decline entering his age-34 season in 2010 – so despite how good he was for the Dodgers in 2009, if you’re convinced he was going to accept arbitration, there is a case that you can find better ways to spend money. Whether the Dodgers have done that or not is another matter.

Feb 16

Clayton Kershaw: Two opposing views of the future

“Is It Unreasonable to Expect Great Things From Clayton Kershaw?” by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness

… despite our high expectations for a player so young, it’s not as though Kershaw is blazing a completely new trail, here. Young players can succeed, if they have the talent and opportunity, and I think it’s clear that Kershaw has both.

“Is Clayton Kershaw Already Declining?” by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs (via ESPN Insider)

… Unlike hitters, who tend to gain power as they age, pitchers lose it. In the past 30 years, 11 pitchers have rang up at least 180 strikeouts in a single season when they were 22 or younger. The list is not full of guys on their way to Cooperstown. Instead, it stands as a sobering reminder of just how great starts to a career can go very, very wrong. …

Feb 15

Hiroki Kuroda (hopefully) recovering

Tucked away near the bottom of this Spring Training preview from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com is a report that the disk injury that sidelined Hiroki Kuroda during the National League Division Series was still an issue at least part of this offseason.

There really isn’t a major injury rehab to follow, now that Jason Schmidt can’t be kicked around anymore. But there is Hiroki Kuroda, in the last year of his contract and coming off a season in which he won eight games and nearly lost his career when he was drilled on the head by a comebacker.

Kuroda could be a key to the rotation and the club was concerned when word came from Japan that he still had neck pain associated with a bulging disk, presumably a side effect of the liner off his head. But Kuroda said aggressive acupuncture treatment provided relief and he’s been throwing for more than a month.

* * *

  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports has a lengthy look at the McCourt divorce situation. Josh Fisher analyzes the piece at Dodger Divorce.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes that the Dodgers had above-average pinch-hitting in 2009 despite having more of a platoon disadvantage (righty vs. righty or lefty vs. lefty) than any other NL team.
  • Dodger Thoughts has always hoped for the end of “Suck!” chants at Dodger Stadium, so I heartily agree with this post by Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog.
  • John Wooden had a baseball kaffeeklatsch last month with Vin Scully, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia and others, writes Jay Paris of the North County Times.
  • Ernie Harwell recalls “the voice of the turtle” and other stories from Spring Training in the 1940s-60s (via Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk).
Feb 06

Time to stop believin’ in ‘Don’t Stop Believin” at Dodger Stadium

The betting here is that the playing of “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the middle of the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium will disappear, now that former Dodger exec Dr. Charles Steinberg is no longer around to champion it. Maybe it would have disappeared even if Steinberg had stayed. It wasn’t getting any fresher over time. (Sorry, Eric.)

If the Dodgers decide to replace the Journey anthem with another song, what would you like it to be?

My default answer on questions like these is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to (Score a Game-Winning) Run” or Sam Cooke’s “Shake,” but I don’t think too hard about such things.  I’m really quite satisfied with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the seventh.  But I am interested in your ideas …

* * *

Great find by the Sons of Steve Garvey: It’s their dad in the make-you-squirm early’-80s television series, Masquerade.

* * *

James McDonald wants to be in the Dodger starting rotation – for real, writes Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.

“I want to be a starter,” McDonald said. “Last year, I didn’t even know. This year I’m coming in with a different mindset, and starting is all I’m thinking about.” …

McDonald said he grew up as a pitcher with a stint this winter in the Dominican Republic.

“It was a great learning process,” he said. “You’re facing a lot of older Latin guys down there and they know how to hit so you have to learn how to pitch. I came out of it a way better pitcher.” …

* * *

Dan Evans gets due praise from at Dodgers Blog from Steve Dilbeck, who chats with him.

Evans was hired as the Dodgers’ general manager in 2001 at a time the team seemed mired in mediocrity and the farm system had lost its way.

Most publications ranked the team’s minor league system near the absolute bottom in baseball, but in three short years it was ranked in the top 10.

Evans rebuilt the front office and brought in good people like Kim Ng, vice president and assistant general manager, and Logan White, assistant general manager of scouting. And then they went to work.

They drafted Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, players the team is now built around, as well as Jason Repko and James McDonald.

“I’m really proud of the fact that these guys panned out,” Evans said. “I was really lucky. I had a terrific staff. I feel good about what we did there.”

* * *

Phillies Nation took a look at the Dodgers using Wins Above Replacement.


Feb 05

Red flags on Dodger starting pitching health

Each year, Baseball Prospectus’ Will Carroll takes a look at the health of each team heading into the season. It’s not his personal opinion, but rather the results of a computerized system that, in a nutshell, is fed data and then comes to conclusions based on historical comparisons.

“The system I use (PIPP) uses an actuarial baseline,” Carroll says, “taking into account the actual injury risk of a player of a given age group (i.e., 24-26, 27-29, etc) and position. It then adds or subtracts based on several other factors, such as team injury history, player injury history, PECOTA attrition and several others. It then categorizes that risk into one of three bands, signified by a color – red, yellow, or green, like a stoplight.”

As a prelude to those Team Health Reports, the site is releasing a spreadsheet today that shows how the key players for each team fare: a green light, a yellow light and a red light. Here’s a snapshot of the Dodgers:

Green: Russell Martin, James Loney, Rafael Belliard, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill

Yellow: Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp

Red: Rafael Furcal, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, James McDonald

Carroll offered to talk about the rationale behind the Dodger results. His answers are in italics:

1) Well, let’s take it from the top.  Five Dodger starting pitchers, five bright red flares. Not even a yellow to spare? What are the reasons for each?  (And yes, perhaps we should bring the elephant in the room that is your history with Chad Billingsley out in the open.)

I know. I checked and double checked, but yes, all of them are in the red. Some more than others. I doubt anyone will quibble with Kuroda or Kershaw as risks. Kuroda’s a litle inflated in that he was out for something that’s unpredictable and then going out again makes it look worse than I think it really was. Kershaw is young, threw a lot of innings (not outrageous, but an increase) and is expected to have another increase this year. Risky, yes. Red, yes, but my god, the upside. McDonald is a case where if he’s the five starter on Day 1 and stays there all year, his innings increase will be insane. I doubt the Dodgers would ignore this, but I can’t project that forward.

As for Billingsley – who I don’t hate – he wore down in the latter stages of the season. He was pretty solid, but if I tell you that Dan Haren has a similar pattern, would it bother you? Risk is not reality, but the fact is that every single one of the Dodgers starters as we speak now is a demonstrable risk. All goes well, no worries and the Dodgers run away with the division. One thing goes bad? Meh, most teams can survive. Two or three … not so much, especially if they have to start rushing some of their good young arms.

2) Rafael Furcal’s a pretty easy red for a layman to understand, though he did look better at season’s end.  Is he just in a position where his back could flare up at any time?

That’s it. It’s an injury that sits there like one of those old WWII bombs they dig up now and again. Probably won’t go off, but it might. It’s a known injury and the Dodgers did very well with maintaining him last year.

3) Why does Matt Kemp not get a clean bill?

It’s goofy. It sees a big slugger and then a stat line that looks like a speed guy. The system sees Juan Pierre muscling up or a slugger who’s overrunning and comes up with risk. It’s mostly that it doesn’t know what to do with a guy like this. It’s not a huge risk, but add in that he’s been being a star all winter while Andre Ethier has been working out all winter in Arizona and that’s a concern.

4) Jonathan Broxton had some toe issues last year, and he’s obviously a big guy. Tell us why we shouldn’t be too worried.

Credit the medical staff and the pitching staff. They never let the toe affect his shoulder. If his mechanics change, that guy throws so hard that all sorts of bad things could happen in there. They shut him down, so the velocity measures and some other objective measures of consistent mechanics give some clarity on that. The toe should be healed now and those don’t tend to recur.

5) Any insight into how much Manny Ramirez needs to be rested?

No, not really. An intriguing thought is that this off-season is different in that he wasn’t juicing like we have to assume he was last year. (Well, at least I hope he wasn’t!) I have no idea how that will affect him or how he handled his off-season. Manny was another guy who was often at API, but I don’t know what he did this year. He’s not a young guy, he’s not a particularly mobile guy, and there’s no DH slot to use, so I’d say once a week, maybe make use of some schedule quirks to buy him an extra day here or there. His bat will tell Torre when he needs to rest.

Feb 04

What Justin Verlander’s new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers

Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:

Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley’s off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn’t pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley’s 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it’s hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It’s not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander’s 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it’s hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after.

For more on the Verlander signing, check out Rob Neyer of ESPN.com and Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs.

* * *

The Dodgers’ policy to compel players to donate money when they signed a new contract – which they were apparently not alone in implementing – has been reduced, but only somewhat. There was an immediate objection from the players’ union, and now a settlement has been reached, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times.

The union filed a grievance soon thereafter, alleging the Dodgers, Angels and 20 other teams had improperly mandated donations to club charities in the contracts of at least 109 players.

Under the settlement agreement, which resolves the grievance, clubs can demand such donations from players signing as free agents or signing long-term contracts that buy out one or more years of free agency, according to a management official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been officially announced.

Those players have the option to sign elsewhere. Players not yet eligible for free agency cannot be compelled to donate, the management official said.

* * *

  • Fox is offering two Saturday night regular-season telecasts this season – their first since 2004 – and the Dodgers are featured both nights, on May 22 against the Tigers and June 26 against the Yankees. Both games are in Los Angeles.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. talked about the Dodgers with the guys at HotStove.com Wednesday.
  • Via Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, I found this story of a ball hit by Joe Wallis that went up but never came down.
  • Ticketmaster makes the bargain tickets for the Dodgertown Classic college baseball doubleheader a lot less of a bargain, writes Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
Feb 03

Sneak peek at the pitching staff

Tony Jackson has his Dodger pitching preview up, leading off with the question of whether Vicente Padilla will be that much of a dropoff from Randy Wolf. The danger is to place too much stock in Padilla’s short 2009 stint with the Dodgers.

I think Padilla might compare well to 2010 Wolf, but not quite so well to 2009 Wolf. Basically, both pitchers did better in a Dodger uniform last year than fans had a right to expect.