Jul 07

The trauma of potential

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Silly me – when I described the yin and yang of Clayton Kershaw in Arizona on Friday somehow I left off the third rail. (Or maybe I included the first and third rails but left off the second.) Read more about that – as well as Vin Scully’s latest moment of ethereal insight – in my latest piece for Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog.

 

Jul 06

Kershaw CXXXIV: Kershawn Golden Pond

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, RF
Adam Kennedy, 3B
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

Clayton Kershaw has had some dominant performances against Arizona, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. notes. But I still find myself a little nervous when he faces the Diamondbacks, for reasons that A.J. Cassavell of MLB.com describes.

… At Dodger Stadium last September, Kershaw was ejected for hitting Arizona outfielder Gerardo Parra on the elbow with a pitch. That came a day after Kershaw took exception to Parra admiring a home run off then-Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

When the two clubs met in Los Angeles on May 14 — the first time Kershaw had faced Arizona since the ejection — D-backs starter Ian Kennedy threw behind Kershaw, who responded by brushing back Kennedy. Both pitchers were warned and no fireworks ensued. …

I don’t want shenanigans. I just want to see Kershaw pitch.

Reports of the demise of Kershaw, by the way, continue to feel exaggerated to this intrepid analyst. In the past month, Kershaw has 43 strikeouts in 34 innings (11.4 per nine innings) with a 2.91 ERA. A year ago at this time, Kershaw had a 3.23 ERA and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jul 02

Route 66


Get your kicks …

  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Information), 66 consecutive innings without a lead for the Dodgers tied a 107-year-old franchise record. As Bob Timmermann pointed out, that 1905 team went 48-104.
  • Also from Timmermann:
    1. Until Sunday, the Dodgers hadn’t played a game where they scored eight runs with only two of them earned since May 13, 1981.
    2. Vin Scully has not called a Dodgers victory since June 17.
    3. The Dodgers are averaging 11.5 runs when they hold Hello Kitty Day.
  • What was Dee Gordon thinking after his second error Sunday? “I can’t say it,” he told Jimmy Bramlett of LAist.
  • Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus finds a lot to write about the Carlos Lee deal that wasn’t.
  • Magic Johnson has been anything but an everyday figure in the Dodger world, writes Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Now.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Texas BBQ and Hoedown might be the best-named and most appetizing event I hear about all year. Tickets for the Aug. 2 benefit at Dodger Stadium start at a salivating $250.
Jun 26

The cruel shoes

Dodgers at Giants, 7:15 p.m.
Kershaw CXXXII: Kershawn the Waterfront
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu. LF
Jerry Hairston Jr. 2B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

My latest piece for Los Angeles Magazine’s CityThink blog looks at how the past week for the Dodgers has played mind games with us, not unlike a certain pair of shoes made famous by Steve Martin.

Though it might seem as if the Dodgers have been struggling for quite some time, the team was 10-7 (.588) in June and held the best record in Major League Baseball until just a week ago. As it is, despite losing six of its past seven games, Los Angeles still has the top mark in the National League, a two game lead in the NL West and a four-game cushion for a playoff spot.

Nevertheless, the month has taken an ugly turn. The Dodgers’ on-base percentage (.301) and slugging percentage (.302) in June form a nearly matching pair of cruel shoes. The highest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) belongs to Bobby Abreu at .740; no other Dodger is breaking the .700 club. …

Read the rest at CityThink.

Jun 24

June 24 game chat

Dodgers at Angels, 12:35 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, DH
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Matt Treanor, C
(Aaron Harang, P)

Travis Jones, a 23-year-old minor-league catcher released by Kansas City, has signed with the Dodgers, who are converting him to pitching. Jones pitched a shutout inning for the Rookie-level Arizona League Dodgers on Friday.

* * *

Daron Sutton, the son of Hall-of-Famer Don Sutton, has been removed from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ broadcast booth indefinitely, according to Steve Gilbert of MLB.com.

* * *

Clayton Kershaw and Chris Capuano, duelin’ and dealin’ lefties …

Jun 23

Dodger Defcon ratings

Starting today, I’m making periodic contributions to the CityThink blog at Los Angeles Magazine. My first piece looks at the state of the Dodgers from a War Games perspective. Check it out …

Good teams have bad weeks, and one bad week like the Dodgers are having (with four losses in a row, including Friday’s 8-5 come-from-ahead defeat against the Angels) doesn’t ruin a season. At the same time, people have feared all along that the Dodgers are a team living on the brink of destruction in a dangerous baseball world.

In the spirit of War Games, here’s a snapshot of which Dodger problems are tic-tac-toe and which are global thermonuclear war …

Read the rest at CityThink …

Jun 09

Where Jerry Park meets Clayton Place: Dodgers roll, 8-3

And to think the Dodgers and their fans thought they had a supersub over the past two years in Jamey Carroll.

Jerry Hairston Jr. continued his world-beating tour of 2012 on Saturday, delivering a home run and two doubles in the Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over Seattle. Thirteen days after knocking a career-high five hits, the 36-year-old Hairston drove in a career-high five runs, including a three-run home run smashed down the line in left in the first inning that put the Dodgers ahead for good.

In 101 plate appearances this season, Hairston has a .435 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage, which puts him on pace to become one of the best Dodger reserves in many a moon. Since the franchise’s last World Series title in 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the only true Dodger reserve to have a higher adjusted OPS in a single season than what Hairston has so far in 2012 is Dave Hansen.

Hairston managed to overshadow Clayton Kershaw, who got the win after striking out 12 in seven innings today. There have been “What’s wrong with Kershaw” mutterings this season, which might have revived after he gave up a three-run home run today to Miguel Olivo in the fourth inning. Given his new battle with plantar fasciitis, I might have been ready to join in had something gone wrong today, and I can’t say I’ve stopped worrying that something will.

But let’s now compare Kershaw’s current stats with last year’s through June 9, 2011.

Year	G	IP	ERA	OPS	K/9	WHIP
2011	14	91.67	3.44	.605	10.0	1.15
2012	13	88.33	2.65	.610	8.3	1.00

Kershaw’s 2011 numbers were inflated by consecutive outings to start June in which he allowed six runs apiece.  The flawless Kershaw that won the Cy Young Award didn’t really kick into gear until after this point of the season. So yeah, his 2012 strikeouts show a decline, but overall, Kershaw is actually off to a better start.

That, combined with Ronald Belisario, who pitched another shutout inning, practically filling the role of 2010 Hong-Chih Kuo (his ERA now sits at 1.10), Todd Coffey lowering his ERA to 3.18 since coming off the disabled list with a shutout ninth, and a 14-hit attack on offense, meant the Dodgers could put the memories of Friday’s no-hit loss far behind them.

Jun 05

Plantar fasciitis nags Kershaw

This news from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, I find pretty alarming:

Dodgers Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw has been dealing with plantar fasciitis for the past week, manager Don Mattingly said Tuesday.

Kershaw took a painful step going to first base Monday night, and Mattingly said it’s “a little plantar fasciitis. He took a funny step and just felt it.”

Mattingly said Kershaw has been receiving treatment for the condition for “at least a week.” …

I recall Mark McGwire and Tim Salmon having major problems with this condition years back. No idea if Kershaw’s case in the same ballpark, but of course, the added fear is that it causes him to adjust his mechanics and create more problems for himself.

Jun 04

Kershaw’s unsteady first half — in 2011

Last year, on June 4, Clayton Kershaw allowed six runs in 6 2/3 innings in Cincinnati. In his next start, he allowed six runs in six innings at Colorado.

His ERA on June 9 last year stood at 3.44.

Admittedly, his strikeout rate is down in 2012, which is not fun to contemplate, but contrary to popular recollection, Kershaw was hittable in the first half of last season. His Cy Young run began June 14, when he began a streak in which he allowed 24 earned runs in his final 19 starts.

Jun 04

On draft day, Dodgers call up Tolleson

Dodgers at Phillies, 4:05 p.m.
Kershaw CXXVIII: Kershmokey and the Bandit
Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Clayton Kershaw, P

We expected a busy day because of the MLB Draft, set to begin at 4 p.m. Mark Appel is expected by many to be the third overall No. 1 pick from Stanford this year, following Andrew Luck in the NFL and Nneka Ogwumike in the WNBA.

However, the Dodgers made it even newsier by not only activating Juan Rivera but issuing a promotion — long-awaited by many of us — to strikeout-mad reliever Shawn Tolleson. Javy Guerra has gone on the disabled list with right knee inflammation, Scott Van Slyke has been optioned to Albuquerque and Matt Guerrier has moved to the 60-day disabled list.

Tolleson’s childhood buddy, Clayton Kershaw, is looking to avoid losing three consecutive starts for the first time in his career against a team he is 0-4 lifetime against with a 5.18 ERA (and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings).

One potential new concern: Tony Gwynn Jr. was in the original Dodger starting lineup against Phillies righty Vance Worley announced today but was later scratched without an immediate explanation.

Update: Dylan Hernandez of the Times reports that Gwynn has a tight hamstring. How cliche …

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.

Apr 16

Scully reminisces about ‘Public Enemy No. 1′

Vin Scully came back to the ballpark Sunday in first-rate storytelling mode. This morning, Sons of Steve Garvey passed along this big Jackie Robinson anecdote.And in the midst of Clayton Kershaw’s sixth-inning struggles Sunday, Scully talked about one of my favorite memories.

“You know when Clayton Kershaw really got my attention?” Scully began. “I don’t know that it’s a big deal that it got my attention – I don’t mean that, but it’s just something that I will forever have in my mind when I hear his name.

“It was an exhibition game, in Vero Beach. … And it was just one of those games, and here was this kid lefthander named Clayton Kershaw. And he had two strikes on a veteran left-hand hitter by the name of Sean Casey. Remember Sean Casey? Good hitter – Cincinnati Reds, later on went on to the American League. Casey came up …

“Kershaw threw maybe the greatest single pitch I’ve ever seen. It was just such a great big overhand curveball at just that moment. I’ve never forgotten it. And every time I’ve come to see Clayton pitch, I’ll always remember Sean Casey — frozen. I mean the players laughed, not really at Casey, but just the inability of anybody to hit that pitch.”

Here’s the audio (clumsily recorded by me) that goes with it: Vin on “Public Enemy No. 1.”

* * *

  • It was far from inevitable that baseball would integrate had Jackie Robinson not succeeded in the big leagues, writes Keith Olbermann at Baseball Nerd.
  • At the Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe recalls Burt Hooton on the 40th anniversary of his no-hitter. (Without meaning to single Jaffe out, he also perpetuates one of the odd things about Hooton – I’m not sure I’ve seen a player – including Doug Mientkiewicz – who had his name more frequently misspelled by so many writers.)

    … As April 16, 1972, came to an end, Hooten had pitched 30.2 IP in his career and only allowed eight hits. Yes, only eight.

    It’s actually a bit more extreme than even that implies. In June of 1971, Hooten came up for a cup-of-coffee start and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning. He allowed three runs in 3.2 innings on five walks and three hits. In his next three starts, Hooten tossed three complete games, allowing a total of five hits. Yeah, that’ll get people’s attention.

    The second and third starts came in September of 1971. In his second start, Hooten allowed only three hits while striking out 15 batters. That tied the Cubs all-time franchise record for punchouts in a game. Oh, and those three hits allowed? They all came late in the game. Hooten went 6.2 innings with a no-hitter intact.

    In his next turn, Hooten pitched a two-hitter for his first career shutout. There was no flirting with a no-hitter, as Bud Harrelson led off the game with a single, but it’s still five hits allowed over two games. Many fine pitchers never did that in their careers.

    But the main event was April 16, 1972….

  • Jaffe also has a story about the peculiar career arc of former Dodger manager Jim Tracy.
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.