May 06

Adrian Gonzalez’s admission has meaning for Matt Kemp

The strange thing about the reaction to Adrian Gonzalez’s acknowledgment (to Bill Shaikin of the Times) that he won’t have the same power as he did before undergoing labrum surgery in the 2010-11 offseason is that no one has followed that with the obvious connection to Matt Kemp.

“I can still hit home runs. That is not going to be an issue. The full power is not the same,” said Gonzalez, who had surgery to repair his labrum before the 2011 season, in acknowledging he would be more of an average and doubles hitter going forward.

In October, Dylan Hernandez of the Times did link Gonzalez with Kemp — who had labrum surgery last winter — but nevertheless, people seem to remain surprised that Kemp is having power issues at the start of this season. In 2011, Gonzalez hit one home run in April — the same as Kemp this year.

Gonzalez finished 2011 with 27 home runs, before hitting 18 in 2012. He has three this season, though he is slugging .500 thanks to seven doubles.

The potential effect of labrum injuries on sluggers is nothing new. Ten years ago, I noted on Dodger Thoughts the effect that Shawn Green’s surgery would likely have on his career in this piece, “The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return.” Green actually fared better than the title predicted, hitting 28 home runs in 2004, though 18 of those came after the All-Star Break. He hit 47 more home runs the rest of his career.

What the long-term effects of Kemp’s injury will be, I don’t know. Perhaps he’ll kick the home-run power into gear starting tonight. But we can’t be surprised if his four-bagger forays take time to resurrect.

Apr 13

Raise the Ryuf! ‘Babe’ dominates in Dodger victory

If Hyun-Jin Ryu keeps playing like this, we’re going to have quite a run at the Pun Store.

The rookie Dodger lefty had a barrel of fun against Arizona tonight, striking out 9 in 6 1/3 innings while going 3 for 3 at the plate – with his parents watching from the first row behind the Dodger dugout – in Los Angeles’ 7-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.


Ryu baffled Arizona, allowing only four hits, a walk and an RBI groundout before the seventh inning, along with doubling and singling twice. His bid to become the first Dodger pitcher with four hits since Claude Osteen in 1970 was enabled and then disabled by Justin Sellers, who singled with two out in the top of the seventh but was picked off.

Player Date Tm Opp Rslt PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI
Claude Osteen 1970-05-26 LAD SFG W 19-3 5 5 3 4 1 0 1 4
Don Newcombe 1955-07-15 BRO STL W 12-3 5 5 2 4 1 0 1 3
Chris Van Cuyk 1952-05-21 BRO CIN W 19-1 5 5 3 4 0 0 0 2
Carl Erskine 1950-08-31 BRO BSN W 19-3 6 5 1 4 0 0 0 0
Kirby Higbe 1941-08-17 (1) BRO BSN W 5-1 4 4 1 4 1 0 0 1
Kirby Higbe 1941-08-11 BRO NYG W 15-7 5 5 3 4 1 0 0 4
Bobby Reis 1935-09-24 (2) BRO BSN W 6-5 5 5 1 4 0 1 0 1
Sloppy Thurston 1932-08-13 (1) BRO NYG W 18-9 5 5 2 4 1 0 0 2
Dazzy Vance 1927-05-12 BRO CIN W 6-3 4 4 2 4 1 0 0 0
Burleigh Grimes 1925-04-22 BRO PHI L 7-8 5 5 0 4 0 0 0 2
Dutch Ruether 1924-09-04 (2) BRO BSN W 9-1 4 4 1 4 0 1 0 2
Burleigh Grimes 1924-08-18 BRO PIT W 7-4 4 4 0 4 0 0 0 0
Dutch Ruether 1922-04-16 BRO PHI W 10-2 4 4 2 4 0 1 0 1
Burleigh Grimes 1921-07-06 BRO NYG W 11-4 5 5 2 4 1 0 1 3

Ryu wasn’t alone in providing offense, as the Dodgers knocked out a season-high 14 hits and got an Adrian Gonzalez homer in the fourth, two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth, building a 6-1 lead. Gonzalez went 3 for 4 with a walk, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier each singled and doubled and Matt Kemp doubled his season RBI total from two to four.

Crossing the 100-pitch mark, Ryu gave up two hits to start the bottom of the seventh, and like Clayton Kershaw the night before, watched from the bench as the first Dodger reliever, in this case Ronald Belisario, allowed both to score. (Ryu’s ERA rose from 1.93 to 2.89.) Martin Prado homered off Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the eighth to cut the Dodger lead to 6-4, and Aaron Hill’s pinch-hit RBI double later in the frame made it a one-run game.

Jansen struck out Cody Ross to end the inning and preserve the lead, but back-to-back doubles by Ethier and Ramon Hernandez built it back to 7-5. Brandon League retired the side in order to end the game.

The Dodgers (7-4) are tied with Arizona and Colorado for second place in the National League West, half a game behind San Francisco.

Mar 30

Marching toward April

Feeling Opening Day excitement and the writing bug late on a Saturday …

• I’m reasonably excited about this year’s Dodger team, but part of that is a perverse excitement about just how bad on offense that left side of the infield might be, at least while Hanley Ramirez is out. That makes the decision to go with Justin Sellers fun for kicks, however dubious. Still, I have always liked the idea of emphasizing defense where offense isn’t an option.

• It only just now occurred to me that I was in the stands last year at the game in which Sellers was hurt and the one in which Dee Gordon was hurt.

• Do you realize this will no doubt be the fourth consecutive year that Kenley Jansen isn’t the Opening Day closer but eventually moves into that role?

• One thing I don’t miss about baseball season is the whining whenever a save gets blown, as if it should never happen. Heaven knows, though, it will happen.

• Carl Crawford has me excited. Truly didn’t think he’d be ready this fast, but this is the one case where I’m allowing myself to be swept away by past success and heady Spring Training numbers.

• I think lingering effects of his labrum injury will keep Matt Kemp below 25 home runs this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive.

• At first, I thought that with no true right-handed outfielder in reserve, the Dodgers would need to keep Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier spaced out in their lineup, or lefty relievers will just crush the team. But Gonzalez has had success against left-handers, so that helps. It’s still not necessarily a bad idea to insert a right-hander between them, though – as long as it’s a decent one.

• My initial plan for any free writing time that emerged this spring was that I would spend it offline on a long-term project. I did begin work on that project early this month, but with baseball season starting, I’m wavering. What might happen is a mix, where I post on Dodger Thoughts not infrequently, but not comprehensively. The risk is feeling like I’m doing both things halfway.

• Another intervening factor in my life is that Youngest Master Weisman, now 5, is six days away from his first T-ball season, and he is raring to go. (His team: the Tigers.) After playing with a pretend ball inside the house several times, we made it out to the park for the first time, and he was knocking balls through the infield and reaching the grass. Also in the past day, I’ve begun trying to teach him how to scoop balls on defense. It’s crazy.

• Older brother Young Master Weisman, now 8 1/2, took a few swings, but piano is his game. He’s composing his own material for his May recital performance. Young Miss Weisman, a whopping 10 1/2, is also wonderful on the keys.

Aug 24

Why I’m hearing ‘Pedro-Delino’ in ‘Rubby-Adrian’

Adrian Gonzalez is just what the doctor ordered for the Dodgers, but at what cost?

* * *

Rubby De La Rosa has been optioned to the minors, enabling him to be traded as a player to be named later in the offseason.

James Loney was listed in the Dodger starting lineup tonight, then scratched. Adrian Gonzales has been scratched by Boston.

It’s happening. The blockbuster trade has the momentum of a Boston-to-Los Angeles freight train. From Gordon Edes of ESPN.com:

The Dodgers and Red Sox are closing in on a deal that would send Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to Los Angeles, though a few hurdles remain before it’s official, multiple baseball sources said Friday.

Pitcher Rubby De La Rosa will be headed back to Boston as the centerpiece of the deal, sources say. De La Rosa made his first major league appearance of the season Wednesday, having had Tommy John surgery about 13 months ago. Also included are first baseman James Loney and prospects Ivan De Jesus (infielder) and Jerry Sands (outfielder), according to sources, plus another top prospect that is still unknown. …

I understand the impulse to go for it — I want that World Series too — because I know how much Gonzalez might help the Dodgers. But losing De La Rosa is a huge one for me to swallow.

On Twitter, I’ve already gotten some amount of ridicule for daring to mention this trade in the same breath as the infamous Pedro Martinez-Delino DeShields trade from 1993. But I’m guessing most of those people doing so are using the benefit of hindsight.

Today, DeShields is held in contempt  by Dodger fans — he’s the historic equivalent of Juan Uribe or Andruw Jones as far as Dodger trade acquisitions go. But compare the following at the time of the transaction:

DeShields had also improved three consecutive seasons, from 1991-93. Gonzalez has started to decline over the past three consecutive seasons. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that DeShields, at the time of the transaction, was a more valuable player and had a brighter future than Gonzalez today.

As for De La Rosa … I’ll never forget the time I was in the Dodger dugout, interviewing Orel Hershiser before the 2011 season opener, and heard a key member of the Dodger staff compare De La Rosa to Martinez. It was the first time I heard the comparison — though not the last. De La Rosa’s arm is electric.

At the time of the 1993 trade, Martinez had already logged 115 innings of major-league ball (almost entirely in relief) at age 22 with a 2.58 ERA and 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, which puts him ahead compared to De La Rosa, who has just now recovered from Tommy John surgery. But make no mistake — there were concerns about Martinez’s health too, to the point that Dr. Frank Jobe was concerned he would break down. As high as we were on him, we didn’t know Martinez was going to become a legend any more than we know what De La Rosa’s ultimate journey will be. And I can tell you for a fact that plenty were thrilled about DeShields coming to Los Angeles.

The chances of De La Rosa becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all time might be slim, but De La Rosa doesn’t have to become the second Pedro to represent a major loss for the Dodgers. He could just be really good, while Gonzalez apes DeShields’ decline.

Like I said, I’m hungry for a World Series title, and I’m not saying the risk of trading De La Rosa won’t be worth it. Don’t misunderstand me: The Dodgers need a player like Gonzalez, who boosts them at their weakest position. I even believe that a move back to his Southern California roots and away from the Red Sox maelstrom could revitalize him.

All I’m saying is, short of Clayton Kershaw, the trade of any other pitcher besides De La Rosa would have left me more comfortable.

Aug 24

Quick thoughts on Adrian Gonzalez

The Dodgers were awarded a revocable waiver claim to Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who fits the Hanley Ramirez model of an All-Star having a down season that is still way better than what the Dodgers have to offer at that position.

Boston has until Sunday to decide whether it wants to send Gonzalez to the Dodgers. Here are my quick thoughts …

Gonzalez still has value to the Red Sox, even if they are rebuilding. And the Red Sox aren’t exactly poverty-stricken. So, even though he’s making more than $20 million a year through 2016, it seems unlikely to me that they want to just give him away without getting anything in return.

On the other side of the coin, it’s clear the Dodgers have use for him, but as we saw with their waiver claim on Cliff Lee that ended up going nowhere, a willingness to pay high salaries doesn’t mean a deal will get done. Steve Dilbeck of the Times speculated Thursday that the Dodgers would have to offer a group of their best prospects that included top prize Rubby De La Rosa (who would need to somehow clear waivers) and take one or more bad contracts from Boston. That’s excessive. If the Dodgers weren’t willing to do that in order to rope Cliff Lee from the Phillies instead of Joe Blanton, that’s too much to expect for Gonzalez.

However, I do see potential for compromise between these two extremes. I’m holding my breath ever so slightly.

As a footnote, Gonzalez is four weeks younger than Andre Ethier.

Aug 15

Matt Kemp really can win the NL MVP Award, but will he?


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMatt Kemp has had every reason to smile in ’11 — except the biggest: contending for the playoffs.

Like drivers who see a good parking space but hold out hope for a better one, even though, for crying out loud, the parking space right in front of them is absolutely all they need, the National League Most Valuable Player voters will select the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp for the honor only if they can’t envision an alternative.

With barely 25 percent of the 2011 regular season remaining (and if you thought “That much?” you’re not alone), Kemp and his .975 OPS, 31 steals in 36 attempts, 28 home runs and exceptional advanced stats (an NL-best .351 total average, according to Baseball Prospectus) are clearly in the thick of the MVP discussion — and he’s there despite playing the majority of his games in the same pitchers’ parks that some will hold against Clayton Kershaw in the NL Cy Young vote.

But by playing for a team that is on the express track to a losing season, Kemp will battle those who feel that the MVP must come from a more close-to-the-action team rather than one on the outer reaches of the mall.

Personally, long before I thought a Dodger would be in this kind of discussion, I’ve been in favor of giving the award to the best player regardless of the team’s record.  Your value isn’t diminished by your surroundings, even if your surroundings are grim. I mean hey, would you dock Mother Teresa any Most Valuable Saint points because she was surrounded by also-rans? Heck no.

But the reality of a vote that hasn’t seen an NL MVP from a losing team since Andre Dawson in 1987 is fairly easy to suss.

As recently as 2009, Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres had a .407 on-base percentage, a .551 slugging percentage, 40 home runs and 99 RBI playing in a ballpark that is as smothering to batters as any in the NL. In wins above replacement, Gonzalez ranked fourth in the NL according to Baseball-Reference.com’s formula, sixth according to FanGraphs. In total average, Gonzalez was third.

Now, you’ll notice that Gonzalez wasn’t first in these categories, even the park-adjusted ones, so it’s not as if he had the right to feel cheated by not winning the MVP, which went unanimously to the dominant Albert Pujols of St. Louis. But somehow, Gonzalez finished not third, not sixth, but 12th, behind players who had inferior seasons at the plate … including Matt Kemp of the NL West-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, with an .842 OPS that was .116 below Gonzalez’s.

Kemp got credit for playing a more valuable defensive position and was viewed at the time as playing it well — that was his Gold Glove year. But Gonzalez finished fifth in the MVP vote even if you sift out first basemen, trailing Pujols, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Derrek Lee.

Only Pujols had a better season than Gonzalez when park factors were taken into account. But Howard and Fielder also had more home runs than Gonzalez, and each played on a better team.

If there’s a silver lining to this ’09 flashback for those rooting for Kemp in 2011, it’s that voters put Fielder in fourth place even though he played for an 80-82 Brewers team that wasn’t much more relevant to the 2009 pennant chase than Gonzalez’s 75-87 Padres. Fielder’s 46 home runs (one behind Pujols) and 141 RBIs (tied with Howard for the league lead) were too gaudy to allow him to slide any lower.

Of course, we’re not questioning whether Kemp is Penske material. We’re wondering how likely it is that he’ll become the CEO. Here’s who might be considered the 10 finalists vying with Kemp for the big office.

  • Albert Pujols. Thanks to a rougher-than usual start, Pujols is not as dominant as he was, although he hit his 29th home run Sunday to retake the National League lead from teammate Lance Berkman and Kemp. I’m not sure anyone playing the odds would expect Pujols to land anywhere below No. 1 in homers when the season ends. But the rest of his traditional stats are closer to mundane, and in advanced, untraditional numbers, he’s not really registering. A big September kick that propels St. Louis into the playoffs could certainly reopen his candidacy, but right now there’s almost no chance that a perceived down year for Pujols would outpoll Kemp.
  • Icon SMIJose Reyes’ MVP hopes have gone to the disabled list with him.
  • Lance Berkman. Pujols’ sidekick — who signed with St. Louis for $8 million this past offseason — trails Kemp in total average but by a slim .001. Kemp’s overall body of work (including 31 steals versus zero) should push the other Cardinals slugger aside, though.
  • Jose Reyes. Considered by many to be the other top candidate from a noncontender, Reyes leads the NL in batting average and steals and has shortstop credentials to boot, but his OPS is far lower than Kemp’s, and now hamstring issues have sidelined him indefinitely. Believe it or not, Reyes is still on pace for the most triples in the NL since Kiki Cuyler had 26 in 1925, but Kemp is putting some distance between them.
  • Troy Tulowitzki. Quietly, the Rockies star has become the shortstop to beat in the NL MVP race. According to FanGraphs, he co-leads the NL in wins above replacement and is by himself in fielding value, and he has a nice 23 home runs as the cherry on top. But speaking of Ripley’s, Colorado has actually fallen behind the Dodgers into fourth place in the NL West. That, plus the natural discount on Coors Field-boosted stats, has Tulo in Kemp’s rearview mirror.
  • Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates outfielder’s long-running snub from the All-Star Game, which finally ended with a last-minute selection as a replacement, might have done more to boost his national profile than anything on the field. Pittsburgh was a surprise contender in the NL Central for most of the season, thanks as much to the 24-year-old McCutchen (a Gold Glove candidate with a bat) as anyone else. But like the Pirates, McCutchen has fallen on hard times lately and has a .684 OPS since the All-Star break.
  • Joey Votto. The defending MVP (taking 31 of 32 first-place votes last year) has 19 home runs, barely half of last year’s 37, and his Reds are 11 games out of first place. He’s having a great season, no doubt (.949 OPS, 5.1 WAR, .408 wOBA, league-high 85 walks), but he’s not a threat to outpoll Kemp at this point.
  • Prince Fielder. The aforementioned slugger has marquee stats (.985 OPS, 27 HR, 89 RBI) that resemble Kemp’s. Milwaukee — the Dodgers’ destination Monday — offers a nice showcase between the two players. His plate discipline is better (77 walks, 73 strikeouts), but — are you sitting down? — he has 31 fewer stolen bases. Fielder also plays first base, and not particularly adroitly. The Brewers have a five-game lead in the NL Central, though, and Fielder is the biggest reason, at least in size.
  • Ryan Braun. Every year in Variety as the Emmys approach, we wonder aloud whether two nominees from the same well-regarded TV show will cancel each other out, opening the door for a third alternative. Braun (.965 OPS, 22 HR, 76 RBI, 22 steals) has worthy credentials, but his traditional numbers rate slightly below Kemp’s, as does his 5.1 WAR. The presence of Fielder and Braun on the same team could cause each to lose the inherent advantage of playing for a contender.
  • Roy Halladay. The best players on the best team in the NL are, as you know, pitchers Halladay and Cliff Lee. The Phillies’ top position player, Shane Victorino, hasn’t even logged 100 games yet this year, while Howard’s .840 OPS as a first baseman isn’t gonna cut it. Halladay (154 ERA+, 2.51 ERA, 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings) and Lee (137, 2.83, 9.3), on the other hand, have been so good that one of them (slight edge to Halladay) will be a viable option for voters who don’t see why a great player on the undisputed regular-season champion shouldn’t win. A pitcher hasn’t won the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968, but that might not be any less likely than Kemp’s becoming the first from a losing team to win since Dawson. Halladay is looking like a Hall of Famer, after all — voters aren’t going to dismiss him out of hand just because he’s on the mound. Not this year.
  • Justin Upton. This one’s late-arriving on the radar, but coinciding with Arizona’s surge into the NL West lead is what’s becoming a monster season for Upton thanks to a 1.109 OPS since the All-Star break. Upton’s .379 on-base percentage, .564 slugging, 25 homers, 75 RBIs, 18 steals and .403 wOBA (weighted on-base average) all trail Kemp’s, but in most cases not by a ton — and Upton, a plus fielder, has moved ahead in WAR. This is a classic case of where, by the time the season ends, Kemp might lose the edge not because of what he did but because of what his teammates did.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJustin Upton has slid into MVP contention — perhaps the lead position.

There are others who will get looks from voters, but no one better than the best on this list.

The NL MVP award is there for Kemp’s taking. But he’ll have to take it. He is absolutely going to need a finishing kick. Upton, in particular, is exactly the kind of player Kemp needs to watch out for — someone who meshes with his profile but who’s doing it with the pressure of a pennant race.

But it’s not just wishful thinking in a downtrodden Dodgers season to believe that Kemp will win the NL MVP. Not at all.