May 14

Dodgers undefeated without Kemp

It’s happened: Matt Kemp is on the disabled list. Moments after his 399-game consecutive playing streak ended with the final out of the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory over Arizona tonight, Kemp was officially sidelined for two more weeks. Jerry Sands will replace him on the active roster, giving the Dodgers an outfield of Andre Ethier, Tony Gwynn Jr., Bobby Abreu, Scott Van Slyke and Sands.

Three Opening Day starters (Kemp, Juan Rivera and Juan Uribe) and top reserve Jerry Hairston Jr. are on the Dodger disabled list now. Obviously, the big one is Kemp. The Dodgers are a major-league best 24-11 right now, with a bigger lead over the second-place Giants than the National League Central and East leaders have over the last-place teams in their divisions, but I think most Dodger fans would be thrilled if Los Angeles can play even .500 ball for the next 14 games, or however long Kemp is out.

If they can do that, or better, it will probably be through large doses of defense, pitching and Andre Ethier.

* * *

In December 2010, shortly after Gwynn signed with the Dodgers, I suggested that they might be better off moving Kemp to a corner outfield slot and starting Gwynn in center field to maximize his principal defining skill – his defense. That didn’t happen, but with Kemp hobbled, we’ve really seen what Gwynn can offer. A day after making a flung-out catch in center, Gwynn made a tremendous throw – against his body – to nail A.J. Pollock at home in the third inning.

The Dodgers are putting on defensive shows almost on a game-by-game basis. Just in the final three innings tonight, there were four outstanding plays. James Loney backhanded a sharp grounder by Pollock in the seventh. Mark Ellis ranged to the shortstop side of second base to flag a Willie Bloomquist grounder in the eighth.

And in the ninth, on consecutive batters, Loney leaned over the railing to backhand a pop fly by Paul Goldschmidt (who almost popped out for the cycle tonight), and then Justin Sellers tumbled into the stands after making a full-bore catch of a foul by Miguel Montero. (Watch the great reactions by Gwynn and Ethier to Sellers’ catch on the replay.) Kenley Jansen then drew a third pop fly from Ryan Roberts to close out the game.

It so happens that Loney has been on a bit of a hitting upswing, with a 1.092 OPS in his past six games, but even when he isn’t hitting, his defense is so strong that I find it easier to rationalize his place in the lineup.

* * *

Ridiculous statement of the night: Clayton Kershaw was not at his sharpest as he threw seven innings of shutout ball. I should be struck by lightning for saying anything of the sort, but it’s really an example of how good Kershaw could be that I notice, for example, when he’s 78 pitches in to the game and he’s thrown only 44 strikes.

Putting aside his retaliatory brushback pitch against Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy, Kershaw didn’t seem to have complete command for much of the game, but aside from the Gwynn play, he didn’t allow a runner to reach third base until two out in the seventh. Kershaw then struck out Cody Ransom, the man who sent Kershaw to his shocking final loss of 2011, and left with a 3-0 lead, having allowed four singles and three walks in 108 pitches while striking out six.

His ERA is 2.22. Man, just wait until Kershaw gets his act together …

* * *

So, is this Andre Ethier’s team now? With Kemp out, Ethier is the lone remaining established threat in the Dodger lineup.

One year ago today, against Arizona, Ethier reached base for the 37th consecutive game. His streak ended the following day. Could it be that on this anniversary, he is poised for an even more significant achievement – keeping the Dodgers above water while Kemp is out?

Tonight, Ethier was up to the challenge. He came just short of a three-run home run in the third inning, then gave the Dodgers some breathing room, doubling their one-run lead, with a no-doubter solo blast that nearly one-hopped its way out of the bleachers in the sixth.

In the shadow of Kemp, Ethier has quietly put together a .368 on-base percentage, .592 slugging percentage and .960 OPS in 2012. Long gone are the days when it was believed Ethier needed Manny Ramirez behind him to succeed.

* * *

The game was sparsely attended, but it was a lovely night at the ballpark.

May 13

Kemp, Ethier watch Dodgers finish win from clubhouse

A nightmare scenario produced a dreamy finish – today, anyway.

Despite losing Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier midway through today’s game, the Dodgers rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-2, scoring six in the bottom of the fifth on their way to a 11-5 Mother’s Day victory that improved their MLB-best record to 23-11.

Before I get into the other details, I want to say this about A.J. Ellis, who singled, walked and hit a three-run home run today (capping the fifth-inning onslaught) and now is OPSing .974 this season. I have absolutely believed for a long time that he was capable of delivering high on-base percentage and occasional power. Plate discipline is huge in this game, and Ellis has it by the bushel. What he’s doing in 2012 matches my highest expectations, but it doesn’t exceed them, certainly not for a stretch of this length. I am thrilled, I am elated, but I am not shocked. Not in any way.

As for the rest of the action …

1) No, we’re not getting out of today’s game unscathed. Kemp left today’s game after running out a ground ball in the bottom of the third, engineering new concern over his left hamstring. What this means long-term isn’t clear, though in the short-term, at least, the Dodgers didn’t suffer. Bobby Abreu hit a three-run double in his first at-bat to give the Dodgers their first lead of the day.

2) Ethier left today’s game in the fifth inning on the behest of home-plate umpire Mark Carlson’s right thumb. Ethier argued a borderline called third strike at length, then began to walk away but cursed unmistakably in the process. Carlson had showed patience during the initial argument, but didn’t extend it any further. I sent my daughter to her room for a few minutes in response to her own shouting at around the same time, so I understand the feeling. (Don Mattingly also was sent on his less-than-merry way a minute later.)

3) Scott Van Slyke replaced Ethier in right field and looked great. In his first plate appearance, he drew a walk and stole a base, then scored the Dodgers’ ninth run on a perfectly executed squeeze by Adam Kennedy on a high and outside pitch. In the eighth inning, Van Slyke doubled in two more runs, continuing his perfect start to his career.

4) Tony Gwynn Jr., moments after moving to center field after Kemp left, made a spectacular horizontal catch.

5) James Loney doubled and walked twice.

 

Apr 11

Kershaw’s winless dominance

F-18s fly over Dodger Stadium prior to the home opener. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Some Tuesday postgame data, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information:

How Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw dominated the Pirates despite not picking up a win:
- Sixty-five of Kershaw’s 88 pitches (73.9 percent) went for strikes, the highest percentage of his career.
- Kershaw went to a three-ball count to the first hitter of the game, the only one he went to all game. The one three-ball count matches his career low in a start.
- Pirates hitters were 0 for 7 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with Kershaw’s slider.
- With two strikes, Pirates hitters were 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts.

Kershaw held the Pirates hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position on Tuesday, continuing his dominance of hitters when getting into a jam.

Lowest BA Allowed With RISP, Starting Pitchers, Since Start of 2011 Season

Ian Kennedy .142
Jeremy Hellickson .161
Ricky Romero .173
Jhoulys Chacin .173
Clayton Kershaw .185 (0-6 on Tuesday vs Pirates)

* * *

Matt Kemp went 0-4 on Tuesday, but drove in a run for the ninth straight game. The nine straight games with a RBI ties a Dodgers’ record.

Most Consecutive Games with RBI, Dodgers History
Matt Kemp 9 (2011-12)
Roy Campanella 9 (1955)
Augie Galan 9 (1944)

* * *
Andre Ethier, on his 30th birthday, hit a game-winning home run in the eighth inning in the Dodgers’ win over the Pirates. The last player to celebrate his 30th birthday by hitting a game-winning homer in the eighth inning or later was Jerry Mumphrey for the Yankees against Milwaukee on September 9, 1982. Mumphrey hit a 10th inning homer in that game. (Elias Sports Bureau)

* * *

  • In a story for Variety, I explore how much TV networks can justify bidding billions of dollars for the rights to broadcast baseball games. Nice to see Dee Gordon flying across the top of the paper …
  • In five games, Gordon has four steals in five tries, and replays showed he was safe on the time he was called out.
  • MIke Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness conveniently tackles a subject I was mulling myself: how Chad Billingsley does in his next start following a great outing. It might also be worth looking at how Billingsley does after a high pitch count in his most recent appearance.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: A photo gallery from the home opener.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey has its own nice photo recap of Tuesday.
  • His Dodger shortstop predecessor, Rafael Furcal, is 10 for 23 with three doubles, two walks and two steals to start 2012: 1.045 OPS.
  • Here’s an Associated Press story on security at Dodger Stadium for the first home opener since Bryan Stow was attacked.
  • Joe Torre conceded to Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com that at times, Matt Kemp was a difficult player for him to manage.
  • Jonah Keri of Grantland and Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discuss the need and desire to kill the save statistic and replace it with something more useful.
  • Don Mattingly and Peter O'Malley. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

    Another gem by Josh Wilker at Cardboard Gods, inspired by the hyphen.
  • A baseball card featuring Reggie Smith and Ryne Sandberg is the subject of a piece by Bruce Markusen for the Hardball Times.
  • Dixie Walker will be played by Ryan Merriman of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars in the upcoming Jackie Robinson biopic, 42, reports Justin Kroll of Variety.
  • Eleven contract extensions have been signed by pre-arbitration-eligible players since the end of last season; Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors looks at the trend.
  • Carlos Santana became one of those players, signing a five-year, $21 million extension. Mike Axisa of Fangraphs examines the deal.
  • At the bottom of this Fangraphs post, you are asked to rate Dodger radio announcers Charley Steiner and Rick Monday.
Mar 30

Ted Lilly will start season on DL

Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun at Camelback Ranch today. © Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2012

Ted Lilly will start the season on the disabled list thanks to a stiff neck, while Chris Capuano will start the Dodgers’ third and seventh games of 2012. J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. have details.

Lilly might make his first start as soon as the Dodgers’ ninth game, April 14. Needing only four starters in their first week, Los Angeles will carry an extra reliever, possibly Josh Lindblom.

Meanwhile, Ramon Troncoso cleared waivers and is headed to Triple-A Albuquerque, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

* * *

In their 9-4 split-squad loss to the Brewers, Capuano struck out seven in six innings while allowing one run on three baserunners. But Jared Wright allowed three unearned runs in the eighth and Todd Coffey four unearned runs in the ninth.

Andre Ethier continued his insane spring, doubling and homering for four RBI and raising his OPS to 1.373. Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has a piece at Fangraphs today in which he explains why he expects Ethier to go on to have a great regular season.

Dylan Hernandez of the Times adds that contract extension talks for Ethier could take place during the season.

There were brushback pitches in today’s game; Jackson gives you the breakdown.

In their other split-squad game, the Dodgers beat the Cubs, 6-3. Dee Gordon tripled in two runs, while Luis Cruz had a pair of hits and RBI.

* * *

Jamie Moyer will start 2012 in the Colorado Rockies rotation. Rob Neyer comments at Baseball Nation:

So this is really going to happen. Barring a terribly disappointing injury in the next few days, Jamie Moyer will soon become the second-oldest man to start a game in Major League Baseball’s long history, and the oldest to start more than once.

In 1965, Satchel Paige started one game for the Kansas City Athletics. He was 58 years old, and pitched three scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox. But that was obviously a stunt; it was Paige’s first appearance in the majors since 1953, and would be his last.

Aside from Paige, the oldest major-league starter was Phil Niekro, 48 when he made 26 starts in 1987.

Satchel Paige was a performer; Phil Niekro was a knuckleballer. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer is just another (relatively) conventional pitcher, except that he’s 49 years old and has officially earned a spot in the Colorado Rockies‘ pitching rotation. …

Fun as that is, I continue to be amazed by projections that find the Rockies will be dramatically better than the Dodgers in 2012.

* * *

  • San Francisco placed two starting pitchers on the disabled list today, Ryan Vogelsong and Eric Surkamp, according to The Associated Press.
  • Bill Bene, the Dodgers’ No. 1 draft pick the year that Clayton Kershaw was born and the team won its last World Series, “agreed to plead guilty on federal charges he operated a counterfeit karaoke business and didn’t pay taxes on sales,” according to Lindsay William-Ross of LAist.
  • Sam Miller has not one, but two good pieces at Baseball Prospectus today. Check ‘em out.
  • Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick gets a nice review from Mike Downey in the Times, as Alex Belth of Bronx Banter notes.
  • Allow me to recommend the second-season soundtrack of Treme as a great listen.
  • If your favorite Dodgers were Burt Hooton, Eric Karros, Eric Gagne, Duke Snider and Tommy Lasorda – and you really liked Karros –  you might be able to buy into the team now.
Feb 29

When you walk through the garden …

Rarely have I been retweeted more than I was Tuesday when I passed along this link to The Wire wind-up toys.

Now, unwind with these notes …

  • Don Mattingly confirmed to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. that he has no plans to bat A.J. Ellis second, citing his lack of speed in front of Matt Kemp. Unfortunately, the alternative candidates’ lack of on-base percentage in front of Kemp seems not to have entered into Mattingly’s thinking.
  • Mattingly also hinted that Juan Rivera would start 2012 as the Dodgers’ regular left fielder with occasional days off. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com added that Jerry Sands is still in the mix to be a platoon partner for Andre Ethier and James Loney.
  • Dodger relief prospect Shawn Tolleson was interviewed by John Parker of MiLB.com.
  • The Dodgers have the National League’s second-easiest early season schedule, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com. Nine of their first 34 games are against teams with winning records in 2011.
  • Here’s the full list, 200-deep, of Dodger prospect rankings from Brandon Lennox at True Blue L.A. Henry Heredia, this is your moment.
  • Gold Glove or not, Andre Ethier’s ranking in David Pinto’s PMR list for right fielders at Baseball Musings probably won’t surprise you. Matt Kemp in center field? You tell me what you think.
  • Trayvon Robinson is trying to reestablish himself after his hot start with Seattle turned into a rough finish, writes Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.
  • Tuesday in Jon SooHoo: two pics that fostered polar opposite reactions for me, Jerry Sands bunting and Matt Kemp skywalking.
  • Not surprisingly, initial reaction to the new book from Dirk Hayhurst, Out of My League, is positive. Examples: Andrew T. Fisher of Purple Row and Keith Olbermann at Baseball Nerd.
  • The statement from Ryan Braun sample-taker Dino Laurenzi is eloquently written.
  • Coming March 15-17 is a SABR Analytics conference in Arizona. Not coming at the same time is the Notalytics Conference in South Dakota, but I sure wish it were.
  • Emmett Ashford, the majors’ first African-American umpire, was given an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Chapman College, according to Terry Cannon of the Baseball Reliquary.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: the slugger formerly known as Mike Stanton.
  • Harvard-Westlake’s Lucas Giolito hit 100 miles per hour while pitching a one-hitter for the Wolverines on Tuesday, writes Eric Sondhiemer of the Times.
  • Perfect for Leap Day: The Dodgers had the 29th-best offseason of all major-league teams, according to The Platoon Advantage.
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A. now has its own blog.
  • Jonathan Abrams and Grantland published a vivid oral history of the 2004 Pacers-Pistons fight that spread into the stands.
  • Longtime Times columnist Steve Harvey is back writing “Only in L.A.,” host Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed announced. The first new edition is here.
  • Watch former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob break a world-distance record for throwing a paper airplane at ESPN.com.
  • Farewell, Monkees and Brady Bunch star Davy Jones. I was a childhood fan of both. Here, from Variety, is the 1965 ad soliciting auditions for The Monkees
Feb 25

Curious times for Uribe and Ethier

Matt Kemp, photographed by BHSportsGuy today

Juan Uribe’s 2012 Spring Training is starting off on one good foot … and one wayward foot.

Uribe pronounced himself completely healed from his 2011 injuries, but he will miss a few days of Spring Training nonetheless because of the trial of a lawsuit filed by his 2010 San Francisco landlord. We’ll let Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com explain.

… He has to fly up to San Francisco on Monday, which is the tentative trial date for a lawsuit that has been filed against him by his former landlord stemming from alleged damage to the apartment he rented during the 2010 season while a member of the Giants. The Dodgers are scheduled for their first full-squad workout on Tuesday, meaning there is a strong likelihood Uribe will miss the first workout and possibly a few others while getting this matter resolved.

All of which begs the question of why this matter isn’t already resolved. The plaintiff is suing Uribe in the amount of $145,000. Uribe is in the second season of a three-year, $21 million contract and will receive an $8 million salary this year. That means $145,000 is less than 2 percent of his salary for this year, and an out-of-court settlement of this suit presumably would be in an amount less than the amount Uribe is being sued for. …

In a separate post, Jackson reminds us that Jerry Sands is not a candidate for third base. “He tried it,” Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Jackson. “Honestly, it looked rough to me. He is a lot better on the first-base side for me. He looked a lot better there, more comfortable, at first base and both corners of the outfield. Third is not one of those positions where you can just throw a guy over there and teach him to play third.”

Mattingly, obviously, was a contemporary of Pedro Guerrero.

Mattingly also said to Dylan Hernandez of the Times and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com that his goal was to have Uribe play exclusively at third base, rather than move around the diamond, in the hopes of preserving his health.

That didn’t stop Mattingly from reminiscing about the time he strayed from first base to become what remains the last left-handed thrower to start at third base. Jackson and Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. have more.

And in other news, weather and sports …

Feb 20

President’s Night links


Because the night belongs to links …
Because the night belongs to us …

  • ESPNLosAngeles.com’s new Dodger blog, Dodger Report, has launched with the great Tony Jackson at the helm. Here’s his introductory post.
  • Here’s video of Vin Scully at Spring Training 1988, supplied by Kevin Kaduk of Big League Stew.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: a nice salute to photographer Herb Scharfman.
  • Recently in Jon SooHoo: Darren Dreifort 1998 pretends to be Mike Scioscia 1988.
  • Yep, Manny Ramirez and the A’s have agreed to that minor-league deal, for whom he’ll be eligible to play after serving out a 50-game suspension. Here’s reaction and analysis from David Schoenfield of ESPN.com and Eno Sarris of Fangraphs.
  • Ned Colletti would like to sign Andre Ethier to a long-term contract, he told Fox in this video interview embedded by Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now.
  • Steve Yeager has taken the role of special-assignment catching instructor, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Kansas City reliever Jonathan Broxton (yep, that looks funny) seems confident enough about the 2012 season, in this Associated Press story.
  • As expected, Blake DeWitt has remained in the Cub organization, notes MLB Trade Rumors.
  • DodgerFan.net has a roundup of stories on several other new ex-Dodgers, such as Rafael Furcal.
  • Dodger minor leaguer Blake Smith was interviewed by Dustin Nosler of Feelin’ Kinda Blue.
  • Former Dodger manager Jim Tracy has received, unexpectedly in my mind, an “indefinite” contract extension from Colorado.
  • The LFP found a great picture of Frank Howard, Gil Hodges and Gil Hodges Jr. from 1961.
  • Keith Olbermann explores a mystery about 1964 Mickey Mantle baseball cards at Baseball Nerd.
  • Robert Lipsyte penned a first-person remembrance for the New York Times on the Mets’ first Spring Training, 50 years ago.
  • Such sad news: Fox sportscaster Chris Myers’ 19-year-old son died in a car crash last week (via FishbowlLA). Please keep their family and friends in your thoughts.
Feb 16

The Andre Ethier conundrum

There’s been much discussion, initiated by this post by Steve Dilbeck at Dodgers Now, about whether the Dodgers should offer Andre Ethier a contract extension before the season starts.

Dilbeck frames things properly: “If the Dodgers believe in Andre Ethier, if they are confident he will rebound and have a successful 2012 season, they need to sign him to a long-term contract. Like soon.”

In other words, if you think he’s your guy, there’s no better time to extend Ethier than coming off a relatively poor season.

One problem, though, is that even if the Dodgers believe in Ethier, the two parties might disagree considerably about his value and simply be unable to come to terms in March. At Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Mike Petriello illustrates in detail the difficulty of pegging Ethier’s future value.

The other problem, as Chad Moriyama writes, is maybe you shouldn’t believe in Ethier.

“While I’ve always liked Ethier, as he felt a part of the young core, the timing is all wrong for me,” Moriyama says. “Locking up a corner outfielder with a four year declining trend in wOBA, mediocre defense (despite the joke of a Gold Glove), the inability to hit lefties, and questionable athleticism just isn’t a risk I’d feel comfortable with. Sorry, but when I look at the type of player Ethier is, I can’t help but envision Brad Hawpe and his precipitous decline at age 31.”

One thing I just happened to notice in passing that I hadn’t realized before: Did you know Ethier finished 12th in the National League in on-base percentage last season? If you adjusted for park effects, he would rank even higher.

And off we go …

  • Bill Shaikin of the Times notes that the second cut of Dodger ownership contestants is looming. Shaikin also wrote recently about how Frank McCourt’s shenanigans have made things difficult for the San Diego Padres.
  • The 2012 Dodgers project iffily, concludes Eric Stephen at SB Nation Los Angeles.
  • Dustin Nosler of Feelin’ Kinda Blue wants the Dodgers to bid on 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. (Nosler, by the way, interviewed me for his site and posted it here.)
  • You might think you know Dodger Stadium, but you don’t know it better than Kevin Waters. Who’s Kevin Waters? Let Jon SooHoo explain …
  • More from SooHoo – a fan’s attempt to catch a foul ball, a reunion of Henry Rodriguez with Raul Mondesi and Ramon Martinez from 1998 and a Father’s Day photo of the Tony Gwynns.
  • Lots to choose from at Baseball Prospectus today, but we’ll start with this appreciation by Steven Goldman for Fernando Valenzuela’s rookie season.
  • A day ago, the piece de resistance at Baseball Prospectus was this: Sam Miller’s recap of “the worst game of 2011.”
  • Ramon Ortiz, still kicking, signed a minor-league deal with the Giants.
  • Fox’s Saturday broadcasts will start at 4 p.m. Pacific for eight consecutive weeks from May to July. I have more details in this Variety piece, where you’ll see a highly veiled reference to Jonathan Broxton’s Waterloo weekend against the Yankees.
  • Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, the two Harvard-Westlake pitchers who are expected to be top picks in the 2012 MLB amateur draft – with Giloito potentially becoming the first righthanded prep pitcher to go at No. 1 – are profiled by Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • An idea I floated Wednesday on Twitter: New York can have Linsanity, Dodger Thoughts might be stuck with Jonsanity, but with its new starting shortstop, Los Angeles should start hoping for Deerangement.
Jan 25

Wow, where did all these links come from?

A bundle of clickable goodness today …

  • Andre Ethier had some interesting comments in an interview Tuesday with ESPN AM 710.

    … Asked about wanting to be with the Dodgers long-term, Ethier said, “It comes down to the security part, too, but it also comes down to unfinished business and I feel like, yeah, I’m facing that decision now where hopefully it doesn’t come down to me having to leave and [I can] be a part of this team when we start rebounding and getting back to where we need to be.”The ownership limbo seemingly affected the Dodgers’ ability to deal in free agency this offseason, with general manager Ned Colletti saying earlier this month the team was essentially done with its offseason acquisitions because “we’re at our payroll.” So when news broke Tuesday of the Detroit Tigers nearing a deal with marquee free agent Prince Fielder, it wasn’t lost on Ethier.

    “Why can’t the Dodgers be doing that? Look at the markets those two teams are, and the stability you see through the front office and the team being able to operate … on the level it should be,” he said, adding, “you don’t try to think of it too much as a player, but obviously if you’re not going after the big fish like other teams are, like our partners are down there to the south of us, the Angels [who acquired Albert Pujols], it’s tough to go out there and keep competing year after year if you’re not going out there and making your team better every year. “I think that’s the situation we’ve been in. Obviously it’s going to get better from here on out because of the sell and getting new people in there.”

    Ethier, who hit .292 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs in 2011 before ending the season with a right knee injury, said he’s aiming for a “strong, solid” 2012.

    “I’ve kind of dealt with this knee thing for the past two years, put it off for one off-season and then last season it just became a thing where a lot of things started multiplying and getting worse and something where I couldn’t quite get back my swing … It was very frustrating and I learned a lot from that.”

  • Ethier participated in a prank on Dustin Pedroia for a Boston radio station. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has more.
  • Matt Kemp’s new contract looks even more valuable in the wake of the Prince Fielder signing, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports offers up a wintertime preview of their 19th-ranked MLB team, the 2012 Dodgers.
  • Former Dodger co-owner and managing partner Bob Daly had even more to say Tuesday (in an interview with T.J. Simers of the Times) than Ethier. Daly is highly critical of Frank McCourt, critical of the Dodgers’ offseason signings and critical of himself for not trading prospects for a bat in the middle of the 2002 season — though I would say that was a period in which the Dodgers didn’t have a whole lot of trade value in the system.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times wonders if the potential interest of St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke in buying the Dodgers could be the first domino that leads to Frank McCourt becoming an NFL minority owner.
  • In a separate post, Dilbeck also offers why the Dodgers might win the National League West, despite all their uncertainty.
  • Just when I think I can’t read any more Hall of Fame voting insight, here comes Lewie Pollis of Behind the Boxscore with a new take, about what he calls “a mistaken assumption about the balloting process: that writers’ own observations of players were expected to be primary factors in their votes.”
  • Daryle Ward, who infamously batted .183 and slugged .193 at age 28 for the 2003 Dodgers, received a 50-game suspension from MLB for testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Ward, who has a .768 lifetime OPS, hasn’t played in the majors since 2008.
  • Former Dodger infielder Wilson Valdez, who ended up the winning pitcher for the Phillies over the Reds in a 19-inning game last May, was traded to the Reds today.
  • There’s speculation about whether Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns 4.5 percent of the Lakers, will get involved with a Dodger ownership bid, such as Magic Johnson’s. Bill Shaikin of the Times addresses it today. Soon-Shiong bought Johnson’s share of the Lakers in 2010. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com interviewed Soon-Shiong in November.
  • The Left Field Pavilion blog has invited all prospective Dodger owners to come out to the Dodger blogs softball tournament February 11 and “meet the bloggers and fans of the team you are trying to purchase.”
  • Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, 26, is about to become a free agent that MLB teams can bid on. More on Cespedes at Baseball America. The Dodgers are not rumored to be pursuing him. “Projections based off his Cuban numbers show a good but not great hitter with 25-homer power and poor strike-zone control,” writes Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
  • Sam Miller of the Orange County Register is quickly emerging as a baseball writer of the highest order. He has two new freelance pieces: an account of Scott Boras’ beginnings as an agent for Baseball Prospectus, and a pitch-by-pitch account of how the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo! Sports blogs about a law in Florida “that any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money shall serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use.”
Jan 17

Ethier signs surprisingly modest 2012 deal

Andre Ethier has avoided a salary arbitration hearing by signing a one-year deal for $10.95 million plus minimal incentives – a deal so modest, given what he could have potentially earned, that it’s almost as if Ethier has taken a Dale Carnegie approach to 2012.

Tip of the hat, no muss, no fuss, let’s play ball.

Based on the history of raises for arbitration-eligible players of his caliber, I had projected in September that Ethier (who made $9.25 million last year) could pull $13 million in salary for 2012. On this, I wasn’t alone: Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. reached the same conclusion, while Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness was close behind at $12 million. By my estimation, $10.95 million (plus $25,000 for reaching 600 plate appearances and again for 625 plate appearances, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Tony Jackson) is roughly the minimum Ethier would have gotten in salary arbitration – the figure he would have ended up with had he lost.

If you’re wondering why Ethier would be guaranteed a raise even after a decline in performance last year, you have a lot to learn about Major League Baseball’s salary structure. By way of comparison, James Loney got a 57 percent salary bump after the 2010 season despite falling to a .723 OPS that year. Ethier just pulled an 18 percent increase.

Perhaps all of us overestimated what Ethier could get this year, but it would appear that he simply wanted to just take care of business and have no part of a protracted conflict.

Now the path is clear for Ethier to pursue a healthy rebound from his career-low 11-homer, .789 OPS season, not to mention a reversal of his decline against left-handed pitching. Ethier obviously won’t end up in the poorhouse should he fall short, but all in all, a comfortable peace between the Dodgers and Ethier would seem to be a good thing.

Dec 05

Remembering 2011: Remember Andre Ethier?


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier (46)

In an offseason dominated by kudos for Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, speculation about the future of James Loney, headscratching over some free-agent contracts handed out by Ned Colletti, mourning over the imminent departure of Hiroki Kuroda, fretting over the state of the starting rotation and the offense, and of course, cautious optimism about what we hope to be the final chapter in the McCourt ownership drama, you’d be hard-pressed to find many words written about one player integral to the Dodgers’ 2012 fortunes: Andre Ethier.

The 2009 Walkoff King, 2010 National League Most Valuable Player dreamer and 2011 challenger to DiMaggio has rather suddenly become something of an enigma, which makes me particularly interested in how he got to this point and where he goes from here – and whether that includes another organization.

The setup: Ethier made his major-league debut in 2006, the first of five consecutive seasons in which he had an on-base percentage of at least .350, slugging percentage of at least .450 and OPS of at least .800. In 2007, he was still earning respect, making 117 starts and sharing time with Matt Kemp in right field and Luis Gonzalez in left while Juan Pierre played every day in center field. The following year began the transition that made Pierre a fourth outfielder (at least until Andruw Jones proved a disaster), but you couldn’t say Ethier was the Dodgers’ undisputed starter in right until late August 2008.

The next year, 2009, brought Ethier’s finest full season. Starting 150 games, Ethier had a .361 on-base percentage, .508 slugging percentage, 31 homers and 42 doubles, finishing sixth in the voting for NL MVP at age 27. He produced with the spotlight off and with it shining bright, bashing four walkoff home runs in the regular season, then in the 2009 postseason going 11 for 31 with three doubles, three homers and three walks for a 1.235 OPS.

Chris Carlson/APEthier bit into a grand slam against the Padres on August 30.

That, one might have argued in the spring of 2010, was only a prelude to true superstardom. It seems like a long time ago to me now, but it’s been barely 18 months since the Dodgers’ best player was undoubtedly Ethier, who began the year on a legitimate Triple Crown and MVP run. Through May 14, Ethier had 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 33 games to go with a .392 batting average, .457 on-base percentage and .744 slugging percentage. A monster.

What happened next was like something out of a bastardized Aesop’s fable. Ethier’s full-on rush to brilliance ended with a fracture on the tip of the smallest finger on his right hand. He missed 15 games, and apparently rushed back too soon to keep it from being more. For the rest of 2011, he had 12 home runs in 105 games, a .338 on-base percentage and .418 slugging percentage.

Still, he finished 2010 as only one of three Dodgers since Pedro Guerrero (Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza being the others) to have three consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of at least 130. As 2011 approached, many assumed Ethier would return to the level he established before the pinky injury – that is, not a Triple Crown place but to a place as one of the best hitters in the game. His struggles against left-handed pitching (.661 OPS lifetime, .625 in 2010) were a wild-card – something that could prevent him from maintaining elite status, but also room for improvement – in which case, look out.

In any event, optimism about Ethier’s performance this year and an understanding of his importance to the team was high. That’s what made it surprising when, days before a tranquil Spring Training ended, Ethier openly speculated (more than once) that 2011 would be his last season in Los Angeles.

The closeup: Ethier singled in four at-bats on Opening Day, then went 0 for 4 in game 2. Taking a .111 batting average to the plate against Matt Cain in the bottom of the fourth inning on April 2, Ethier got a single in that at-bat and his next two. And so his campaign to break the Dodger and major-league consecutive-games hitting-streak records began.

Overshadowing basically every other Dodger, including Kershaw and Kemp, Ethier and his streak were palpably exciting and dramatically deficient only in the fact that Ethier rarely waited until his final at-bat to extend the skein. He reached Halfway to DiMaggio status May 2 and his 30th consecutive game May 6, going 3 for 5 against the Mets one night after his only missed game during the streak.

That missed game brought with it some foreshadowing, because it turned out that Ethier was suffering from left-elbow inflammation, raising fears that his 2011 season might play out like 2010 did.

The hitting streak ended May 7, with Ethier striking out against Mets lefty reliever Tim Byrdak in the eighth inning to go 0 for 4 (with a walk). The game was tied at that point, but the Dodger bullpen gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth to prevent Ethier from getting a chance to extend the streak in extra innings. Ethier did continue his streak of reaching base for another week, taking it to 37 games before going 0 for 4 against Arizona on May 15.

Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesEthier in September, days before his season ended because of knee problems.

Ethier fell into a brief slump after the streaks ended, but for the most part continued to reach base at a high rate thereafter, especially after taking three starts off to rest his aching body (and also chill out a bit). From May 27 through the remainder of his season, Ethier had a .358 on-base percentage, almost equal to his 2009 mark. But the problem was that his power from 2009 had all but disappeared. Ethier’s 11 home runs and 30 doubles in 2011 were his lowest totals since his rookie year, and his .421 slugging was by far the lowest of his career. In addition, his struggles against left-handed pitchers only grew worse, with a career-low .258 OBP, .305 slugging and .563 OPS.

Ethier’s season ground to a halt amid more injuries (his right knee the latest culprit) and controversy over how they were being treated, though he kept battling at the plate until the end. On September 6, Ethier matched a season high (established one week earlier) with four RBI against the Nationals; with that, he called it a year. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on September 14, with a scheduled recovery time of six-to-eight weeks. In other words, Ethier should be 100 percent right now.

Nothing, arguably, illustrates how unpredictable Ethier’s 2011 was than the fact that the right fielder, admired for his bat but often maligned for his defense, came away with one postseason honor: his first Gold Glove Award.

Coming attractions: Ethier, the pride of Ned Colletti’s trading resume, the kid with the sweet swing beloved by scouts, turns a wizened 30 in April. That will kick off what will be his last year before free agency save a contract extension that, given an October Colletti interview with Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com, doesn’t seem likely to come. Nor, however, does there appear to be an Ethier trade on the horizon, though with a salary that should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million next year, the player who has battled injuries for two years projects as the highest-paid Dodger of 2012.

Ethier’s Dodger future, short-term and long, is uncertain. His on-field performance has to answer the larger questions of where his home-run power went and whether his production against lefty pitching will ever arrive. If those questions are answered sourly, 2012 will no doubt be his last in Dodger whites. More and more, people are wondering if the former MVP candidate is at best a platoon player extraordinaire. But a rebound year that ends with new ownership in place could set Ethier up for a renewed engagement in Los Angeles. Though few are talking about it now, Ethier will definitely be one of the Dodgers’ biggest stories next spring.

Sep 08

Andre Ethier not expected to play again this season

Andre Ethier appears to have become the third Dodger starting position player to call it a season because of injury, joining Casey Blake and Juan Uribe. Less than two weeks after the controversy about his injured knee broke,  the decision has been made that solving the problem is more important than seeing how long it can be tolerated.

From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Ethier has left the club to consult with famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., concerning the right fielder’s continually troublesome right knee.

This appears to be an indication Ethier, who has been an All-Star each of the past two seasons and is a key member of the Dodgers core, won’t play again this season. He already was expected to have surgery on the knee after the season, and this could mean he will have it sooner than that.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly’s comments to reporters before the Dodgers doubleheader in Washington on Thursday made it sound as if that is a foregone conclusion.

“We knew his symptoms, and it hadn’t gotten worse, but we don’t want it to get worse,” Mattingly said. “It definitely doesn’t sound like something that will be with him the rest of his career once it is taken care of. We will go into next year expecting him to be fully healthy for spring training. … By getting this taken care of now, it allows him to heal and get his work done and come to spring training ready to go.”

Ethier has been playing through pain in the knee since last season and considered surgery last winter before ultimately deciding against it. He received a series of three injections of orthovisc, a synthetic fluid that lubricates the knee, over a three-week period that ended three weeks ago, but that hasn’t lessened the discomfort. …

“You start making changes to get away from pain, and you can easily get away from your base,” Mattingly said.

Sep 07

Does Matt Kemp need a rain dance?

While I ponder what a potential rainout of Thursday’s Dodgers-Nationals doubleheader — with the games unlikely to be replayed — might do to Matt Kemp’s MVP chances, here are some links:

  • Juan Uribe’s season-ending surgery for a sports hernia is today, the Dodgers announced.
  • Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation offers a history of suicides among baseball players, with some particularly grim anecdotes from the distant and more recent past.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. on the broken dreams of Ivan DeJesus Jr.:

    … In addition to his two walks in 35 at-bats with the Dodgers, DeJesus had just 16 walks in 245 plate appearances over 57 games in Triple A through July 21, just 6.5% of his plate appearances. However, as the season wore on DeJesus showed improvement with 29 walks in his final 43 games, walking in 14.6% of his plate appearances during that span, showing glimpses of his prior days as a viable prospect. DeJesus even hit six of his eight home runs this season in a 16-game span in mid-August.

    Whether it was for attitude, or performance, or both, DeJesus did not get the call. Again. If the Dodgers thought anything of DeJesus, he would be up with the big league team. It appears his days in the Dodger organization are numbered, which is a shame.

    It’s not clear to me why, even if De Jesus doesn’t loom large in the Dodgers’ future plans, he would get buried by Eugenio Velez, who is 0 for his last 40 in the majors — unless the Dodgers’ share the same perverse fascination with how long Velez’s streak can go on that we do.

  • Stephen also points out that Andre Ethier now has at least 30 doubles in five consecutive seasons, a figure exceeded by only four players in Dodger history: Zack Wheat, Dixie Walker, Jackie Robinson and Steve Garvey.
  • Don Mattingly gave an interview to Jim Rosenthal of Los Angeles Magazine (link via L.A. Observed, which also points to a science-flavored Times op-ed piece by Frederick M. Cohan related to Sandy Koufax’s perfect game). An excerpt from the Mattingly interview:

    Managers have people second-guessing them all the time. But even you’ve second-guessed some of your decisions in the press.
    If you don’t second-guess yourself, then you are not trying to get better. Joe would always tell me that you are going to make decisions. Some of them are not going to work out, and it does not mean that they were the wrong decisions. I have had many occasions this year where I questioned and second-guessed my decision in a game, but it comes down to learning from mistakes and being accountable for what you did right or did wrong.

    Can you think of a decision you second-guessed recently?
    The Mets had Jason Bay waiting on deck with an open base, and I could have walked the lefty hitter and pitched to Bay. Instead the lefty got a hit, and I kicked myself for not challenging Bay and walking the other guy with an open base. We all have the temptation to be backseat drivers when it comes to decisions that don’t work out the way we want. …

  • Is Biz of Baseball founder and Dodger Thoughts friend Maury Brown bringing down the Jim Crane ownership of the Houston Astros (with an assist from Frank and Jamie McCourt) before it even begins? Take a look at this piece and this one by Brown and judge for yourself.
  • J.J. Cooper of Baseball America stacks Minor League Player of the Year Mike Trout’s 2011 season against the best ever by age-20 players.
  • Satchel Price of Beyond the Boxscore looks at the offseason market for catchers (in case the Dodgers decide they need to stick a dagger in A.J. Ellis’ heart one more time.
  • A big topic of conversation in the online sabermetric world Tuesday was this piece appearing on It’s About the Money, which calls into question the value of the Wins Above Replacement stat because of its reliance on fielding metrics that are questionable. This led to a discussion at Sean Foreman’s Baseball-Reference.com blog (including the comments) about how much consistency one should expect in fielding stats for individual players from year to year.
  • Baseball Toaster founder Ken Arneson explores on his new blog why he’s not ready to “commit to a life as a chicken.” I can relate:

    … It’s partly because I don’t have all my ducks in a row in my personal life to make that practical right now. I quit writing regularly two years ago because I was juggling too many balls in my life, and I ended up doing a half-assed job on all of them. I hate feeling like I’m not living up to expectations, I hate feeling like I need to work 24/7 in order to avoid feeling like I’m not living up to expectations, so I resist making commitments that would create any expectations. Hence, for now, this blog, where I can do what I like, when I like, how I like with maximum flexibility and minimum commitment. …

Sep 06

Federowicz gets called to the show

The Dodgers have recalled John Ely and Jerry Sands while purchasing the contract of Tim Federowicz from Albuquerque. Federowicz will become the 48th player to suit up for the 2011 Dodgers once he gets in a game.

When that will happen is a bit murky. Dylan Hernandez of the Times tweeted that Federowicz might not play until the last week or two of the season because Don Mattingly wants him to get used to his “new environment.” Aside from this making more sense if Federowicz were joining the Terra Nova Dodgers, I can’t quite believe that Mattingly thinks it’s necessary for the young catcher to have no game action for more than a week. It’s not as if the Dodgers have been doing that with any of their other young farmboys this year.

In a procedural move, injured pitcher Vicente Padilla was moved to the 60-day disabled list, so the number of players on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster remains the same.

Meanwhile, to give Sands at-bats, Don Mattingly will have to take some playing time from either Juan Rivera or Andre Ethier. That could mean more angst for Ethier, whose saga gets scoped out by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.