Jul 03

Uribe’s pursuit of Andruwza Line continues

Reds at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, RF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Chris Capuano, P

Juan Uribe’s journey to ignominy looked like it might make another rest stop at the disabled list, with the infielder having sprained his right ankle while getting thrown out on the bases in Monday’s 8-2 Dodger loss to Cincinnati. However, Uribe is back in tonight’s Dodger starting lineup, thrilling legions of Dodger fans.

With Mark Ellis nearing a return from the DL at second base, the timing for a Uribe injury wouldn’t have been so bad (if it could ever be). His 2012 OPS has fallen to .539, below last year’s .557 and only 34 points above the Andruwza Line of .505, established by Andruw Jones in 2008.

In fact, Uribe is ahead of Jones’ pace — the latter came off the disabled list on Independence Day four years ago with a .543 OPS (unless you take into account the entirety of Uribe’s 119-game Dodger career, in which case his OPS skies to .551).

Update: Uribe was scratched from the Dodger lineup shortly before 4 p.m. and replaced at third base by Luis Cruz.

Update 2: Todd Coffey has gone on the disabled list, with Shawn Tolleson headed back to Los Angeles for the time being, according to Dylan Hernandez of the Times. Uribe is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Andre Ethier is probably headed to the disabled list as soon as Wednesday, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

* * *

  • Dodger prospect Raydel Sanchez threw seven innings of no-hit ball for Great Lakes on Monday.
  • The legend of the 21st-century Billy Hamilton grows. In his 78th game of the year Monday, the Reds minor-leaguer stole his 100th base.
  • Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post and Rob Neyer of Baseball Nation provides an update on the Rockies’ attempt to move to a short-outing four-man starting rotation. “Through the first 10 games of the grand experiment,” writes Renck, “the Rockies’ rotation, on a flexible 75-pitch limit that will grow if the starters become more effective and more durable, posted an 8.56 ERA, compared with a 6.28 ERA for the starters in the season’s first 65 games.”
May 18

Looking back at the worst Dodgers starts since ’88


Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesJohn Shelby finished second on the Dodgers in home runs in 1987 at age 29, then declined.

As Dodgers watchers everywhere wonder how much latitude struggling James Loney will get, I thought I’d take a look at how much latitude others in similarly dire straits have gotten.

Loney has a .534 OPS, putting him firmly in position to have one of the worst Dodgers starts through the end of May of any regular since 1988:

Worst OPS through May
(minimum 3.1 plate appearances per team game)
.452 John Shelby, 1989
.457 Alfredo Griffin, 1988
.532 Mike Davis, 1988
.582 Cesar Izturis, 2003
.595 Jose Offerman, 1994
Source: Elias Sports Bureau (not adjusted for park factors)

Here’s what happened next to those five:

John Shelby, 1989
Shelby came to the Dodgers in a May 1987 trade and hit 21 homers in 120 games. He declined in 1988 to a .715 OPS but still contributed 10 homers and respectable defense in center field for the World Series champs. However, the roof caved in the following year.

He finished April batting .186 with two extra-base hits — and then got worse. In May, he got two more extra-base hits, but his batting average fell to .168 — and then got worse. Still playing almost every day, he slid to .160 — going 0-for-10 in the 22-inning game at Houston — although he did hit his one and only home run of the year that month.

You might conclude that there was a lack of offensive alternatives, especially considering that injuries limited Kirk Gibson to 71 games, but Gibson missed only four weeks before the All-Star Game and played regularly in June (including an 0-for-8 game June 17 against San Diego). Mike Marshall was off to a slow start in right field, but on the bench was Mickey Hatcher, who batted .307 before the All-Star break. However, none of those three could really play center field — although the Dodgers did try Gibson there occasionally.

In June, the Dodgers called up 24-year-old Jose Gonzalez. He mostly rode the pine in the early going but got a week’s worth of starts in late June and went 12-for-26 with three walks, at which point he began getting the majority of playing time in center field. Franklin Stubbs, Billy Bean without an “e” and Mike Huff were among those getting a shot, as the Dodgers looked for anyone who could help.

Shelby was sent to the minors in July by Dodgers general manager Fred Claire. “They said I could either come to Albuquerque … or be released,” Shelby told the Los Angeles Times later that year. After an .810 OPS in 32 games with the Dukes and manager Kevin Kennedy, he returned to the majors to play much of the final five weeks in center for the Dodgers and hit his season peak. Unfortunately, that peak was merely a .248 batting average with only three walks to go with 26 strikeouts — a .583 OPS. He never got it together.

He remained a Dodger until the next June, however, before he was released. He signed with Detroit and homered in his first game as a Tiger.

Alfredo Griffin, 1988
Savvy readers will notice the Dodgers went to the World Series despite two horrific starts from newly acquired regulars. One was Griffin, who came in a big, multiplayer trade with Oakland with the intention of ending the Dodgers’ shortstop-by-committee approach of 1987 (Mariano Duncan, Dave Anderson and Glenn Hoffman).

Griffin was hitting a robust .224 (.642 OPS) through April 23, then slumped to a .128 batting average and .334 OPS over the next four weeks, leaving him at .457 when he was sidelined for two months with a broken right hand from a Dwight Gooden fastball. Anderson got most of the starts in Griffin’s absence and almost stole the job for good with a Jamey Carroll-like .309 batting average and .416 on-base percentage in his first 40 starts, but he tailed off dramatically just as Griffin was nearing his return.

Griffin, still probably not completely healed, had a .558 OPS the rest of the season, then went 7-for-41 with two walks and one extra-base hit in the postseason.

Eric RisbergMike Davis found redemption in the 1988 World Series.

Mike Davis, 1988
Before the ’88 season, the Dodgers were counting on a free-agent signing in a big way — but until Gibson became available, that free agent was Davis, who hit 65 homers in his final three seasons with the A’s. But Davis reached the end of May without a single long-distance call, struggling with a .210 batting average, .283 on-base percentage and .248 slugging percentage.

He started 38 of the Dodgers’ first 41 games, but it was around the end of May that manager Tommy Lasorda’s patience began to run out. Davis started only 11 of the next 81 games, although he never went more than a few days without an appearance. Mike Marshall moved to right field from first base, where Lasorda mixed together a combo of players including Hatcher, Stubbs, Danny Heep, Tracy Woodson and, until he got traded to St. Louis, Pedro Guerrero.

Stubbs would by default be considered the player who replaced Davis in the lineup, and the former first-round pick wasn’t all that much to write home about with a .288 on-base percentage and .376 slugging for the year. But Davis never got any better. From July 25 on, he went 10-for-70 with six walks, a .394 OPS.

It was this year-long collapse that made the two-out walk he drew off Dennis Eckersley in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series so improbable and impossible in its own right. He then hit a home run in the clinching Game 5, matching his entire regular-season total.

Cesar Izturis, 2003
Izturis became the Dodgers’ regular shortstop in 2002 at age 22, his first year with the team after coming in a trade from Toronto. As he was well above average in the field, the Dodgers were willing to tolerate almost anything from him with the bat, riding out a .512 OPS after May 1 that year.

The following season brought hope for improvement, but after a 5-for-9 start in an opening series at Arizona, Izturis was down to a .582 OPS through May. Unlike his predecessors on this list, his glove and health kept him in the lineup. He played 158 games in 2003 and started 154, even though he barely showed any improvement at the plate, finishing the season at .597.

Two years later, Izturis reversed his fortunes at the plate so dramatically that he was batting .342 at the end of May with an .812 OPS, numbers that propelled him to the All-Star Game despite a June in which he went 9-for-86 with four walks.

Kevork Djansezian/APJose Offerman played his last major league game in 2005 but never appeared at shortstop after 1996.

Jose Offerman, 1994
Once the most touted prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, Offerman launched his career in 1990 with a home run in his first major league at-bat. But through the first four seasons of his career, his career OPS was a mediocre .650 in nearly 1,500 plate appearances. That wouldn’t have been so bad if, unlike Izturis, he hadn’t become notorious for his fielding flaws, making 79 errors in 1992-93 alone.

In 1994, he got off to his worst start yet. Like Loney, he was able to string together some singles, going 15-for-44 over a two-week period, to get his batting average above .200. But when May turned to June, his OPS was still below .600.

Offerman stayed in the lineup in June, muddling along at the same pace. His major league season ended abruptly June 26 with a demotion to Albuquerque by Claire (who replaced him with Rafael Bournigal), about six weeks before labor strife ended the ’94 season.

The crazy thing about Offerman is, unlike everyone else on this list, he actually earned some long-term bragging rights at the plate. Presaging Izturis, he parlayed a hot start to the 1995 season (.429 on-base percentage/.442 slugging through June) into a spot on the All-Star team. Still only 27 when the Dodgers sent him to Kansas City in exchange for pitcher Billy Brewer (who then went to the Yankees for Mike Judd), Offerman went on to play another decade in the majors, collecting more than 1,000 hits, twice leading the American League in triples and making the All-Star team again in 1998.

*Andruw Jones, 2008
You might be wondering why the notorious flail that was Jones wasn’t on the list. He just missed having enough plate appearances to qualify for the above criteria. Had we relaxed that requirement, his .543 OPS would give him the fourth-worst start by a Dodgers regular since ’88. He started 36 of the Dodgers’ first 43 games. One year ago today, he made his final start before knee problems sent him to the disabled list, where he remained until July. Playing semi-regularly upon his return, he showed no improvement, going 10-for-63 with a .433 OPS and driving the Dodgers to make the end-of-the-month trade for Manny Ramirez.

Jerry Lai/US PresswireJames Loney had an .810 OPS a year ago today. He’s now at .534.

**James Loney, 2011
What does this all mean for Loney? A bad start doesn’t have to mean the end of his career, although it would help if he were a middle infielder.

Anything can happen — all we have above are anecdotes — but it can’t be a comfort to know that since 1988, none of the Dodgers who have started their seasons in similar fashions recovered before the year was out.

May 15

Gap between Martin and Barajas is narrowing

On April 23, Russell Martin homered twice and walked, raising his 2011 on-base percentage to .410 and his slugging to .723.

Since then, Martin has gone 8 for 52 with nine walks, a .279 OBP and a .250 slugging.

Martin is still having a better season than the man who replaced him on the Dodgers, Rod Barajas, but the difference between the two is shrinking. The power is there with Barajas, whose main problem continues to be his walks – only five (against 33 strikeouts) in 126 plate appearances.

* * *

I couldn’t resist finding the irony in the fact that amid the maelstrom of poor-performing, massively paid Jorge Posada being dropped last in the Yankees’ lineup and then pulling himself out of the game entirely, the player selected to replace him Saturday was Andruw Jones, who knows a thing about maelstroms of poor-performing, massively paid players.

The other thing I noticed is that Posada’s adjusted OPS of 71 is still considerably higher than James Loney’s 50, even though Loney is on his hottest streak of the season.

Here’s what ESPN Stats and Information had to say about Posada: “Part of Jorge Posada’s poor start can be explained by a .164 batting average on balls in play, by far the lowest among 194 qualified players. However, it can’t all be blamed on bad luck, as Posada’s batted ball profile isn’t helping. His line drive rate is just 11.4, which is the sixth lowest among qualified players and would be by far his lowest since data is available in 2002.”

Dec 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin’” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.
Nov 16

It’s whom you pay, not when you pay them


Ric Tapia/Icon SMIThe problem isn’t that the Dodgers are still paying Jason Schmidt; the problem is that Jason Schmidt couldn’t pitch no matter what date his paychecks arrived.

With a third of Hiroki Kuroda’s new contract coming in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in 2012 and 2013, naturally the subject of the Dodgers deferring salaries has come up again. On that subject, let me make these points:

  1. Though they have certainly turned it into an art form, deferred payments are nothing unique to the Dodgers or the McCourt ownership. They can’t even lay claim to the grand-deferred-daddy of them all, the Mets’ 35-year Bobby Bonilla plan.
  2. Deferred payments aren’t an inherently bad way to operate a business. To oversimplify, if you are making good investments with the capital as you hang onto it, you will come out ahead.
  3. The primary issue with the money the Dodgers owe players who are no longer on the roster isn’t the money — it’s the players. The problem is not that they’re still paying Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones — it’s that those contracts were so unfortunate, period.  We could have taken Schmidt to a $47 million lunch at the Palm a few years ago and called it a day — it wouldn’t have made that deal turn out any better.
  4. Remember that some deferred contracts did not start that way. For example, Jones’ deal was restructured to accommodate the 2009 Manny Ramirez signing, so that the Dodgers would have other options besides Jones and Juan Pierre in left field. The ongoing flow of cash to Jones are less about a philosophy of deferring payments than about trying to make lemonade from lemons.
  5. Backloaded contracts that are used on productive players have the potential to be good. Keeping Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to single-digit millions now, enabling the team to spend more to address other pressing needs, is a viable strategy — especially if you believe that down the road, more TV dollars and a better economy might make the backloaded contracts easier to pay off.
  6. Certainly, there’s an argument that the Dodgers should reign their spending and stop buying players on credit. Heck, I’m one of those rare birds who would watch a homegrown, low-rent squad. But if you do that now, given the chaos in team ownership, you’d have to brace yourself for a 2011 team as leaky as a bad roof.
  7. Yes, the McCourt ownership could sell a house and take care of all this year’s deferred payments in an instant. But I’m not holding my breath for that.

In a nutshell, the timeframe for paying player salaries is fairly low on the issues bedeviling the Dodgers. Achieving a combination of good decisions and good luck regarding the roster is far more important. Even as the McCourt drama plays out, the Dodgers will thrive or dive depending on their personnel choices.

Eventually, the Dodgers will either operate one season on a limited budget, or they’ll find the revenue to bring their finances back to steadier ground.  I’m betting on the latter. In any case, what matters is that they spend their money wisely, whenever they spend it.

Aug 02

Manny, Andruw and the Juan


US Presswire, AP PhotosMurderers r’oh!

I’m hoping I’m the first one to point this out, but in any case, if the Dodgers’ tailspin continues and they unload their current high-paid outfielder to the White Sox, as has been rumored, we’d have the potential of seeing Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones in the same Chicago starting lineup. (I won’t dare dream they’d actually play in the outfield together).

In the meantime, if he avoids any immediate setbacks, it appears Ramirez will start his latest minor-league rehab assignment this week.

* * *

The Dodger coaching staff is great at pointing fingers, except at themselves, writes Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone.

… The coaches will yell and scream about wanting to win, and so will Ned Colletti, but when it comes time to committing to winning, they refuse to do it. From Garret Anderson to George Sherrill to Ronnie Belliard, the Dodgers front office and coaching staff have always refused to shed dead weight because it would hurt the feelings of veteran players.

Instead of doing anything to win like they tell their players to do, the powers that be simply talk a good game and nothing more. They talk about how they want to win at all costs, about how the players should want to do the same, and they talk about a sense of urgency. However, when it comes time to actually take the very actions that will help the Dodgers win, it’s all bark and no bite. …

* * *

  • The Irony Committee approves this Ned Colletti quote on 710 AM ESPN (via True Blue L.A.) “You watch Ryan Theriot play, it’s going to remind you of Blake DeWitt and how hard he plays.”
  • From Dodger Thoughts commenter Nsxtasy1, in response to my  “A Team of Garret Andersons” post: During the same period, Garret Anderson has a .222 BA and .300 OBP. That’s right, the team is doing so poorly since the break that Garret Anderson is outhitting the rest of the team. Yes, Garret Anderson.”
  • The Dodgers are going with a less showy Matt Kemp poster at Friday’s giveaway, writes Roberto Baly at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.