Apr 05

Kershaw hurls. Dodgers to victory

It’s not the best sign for Opening Day when Vin Scully starts the game talking about diarrhea.

The starting pitcher of the team Scully is broadcasting for the 63rd season, Clayton Kershaw, was putting on a private performance of the New Flu Revue. Even so, everything came out okay for the Dodgers, who launched their bid for an undefeated season with a 5-3 victory over San Diego.

Kershaw stomached three innings, surviving a bases-loaded scenario in the second, before his day ended. The Associated Press provided this summary:

… Mattingly said he saw Kershaw lying down in the tunnel behind the dugout after the third.

“It’s not a real good sign when your starting pitcher was laying down,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly said he and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt discussed holding out Kershaw.

“He wanted to go,” the manager said. “He wasn’t dizzy or didn’t have a fever or any of that kind of stuff, so it was one of those situations where he wanted to go. …

Kershaw struck out three, while also producing the Dodgers’ first hit of the season. It was a game effort. But it was up to his teammates to pick up the slack.

And so they did, with a little help from Padres starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. The offseason acquisition from Cincinnati struck out five batters in his first three innings, but gave up two singles and four walks in the fourth inning. Two of the walks came with the bases loaded, to James Loney and A.J. Ellis, allowing the Dodgers to take a 2-0 lead that would have been more had Andre Ethier not been incorrectly ruled out at home on an ostensible wild pitch. (Ellis also had a single in three at-bats on the day and saw 28 pitches in his four plate appearances.)

While Josh Lindblom was holding San Diego scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings, the Dodgers tacked on another run thanks to a three-base error by San Diego centerfielder Cameron Maybin, who was too shocked that Gordon hit one over his head to make the catch after he went back and reached it. One out later, Matt Kemp himself reached base on an infield error to bring Gordon home. Although Gordon went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts, he made his presence felt not only on the bases but with a spectacular dive and throw-out in the fourth.

Mike MacDougal gave up a run in the sixth, but Matt Guerrier pitched a shutout seventh and Kemp seemed to put the game away in the eighth with a home run that was straight out of the Mike Piazza repetoire, a towering shot to right-center field to make the score 5-1.

Kenley Jansen echoed his poor first outing in 2011 by allowing a two-run home run to Maybin in the bottom of the eighth. That meant Javy Guerra would get a save opportunity in his 2012  debut after all, and Guerra retired the side in order on 14 pitches.

Juan Rivera had two singles for the Dodgers, and perhaps most amazingly, Juan Uribe had a walk.

This Dodger win came on a day that Detroit wasted eight innings of two-hit ball by Justin Verlander before edging Boston, a day that Cleveland blew a 4-1 ninth-inning lead and then lost in 16 innings (the longest Opening Day ever) and a day that eight of the 12 other teams playing were held to two runs or less. It was a day that could have easily given the Dodgers and their fans the heaves, but instead, they’ll go to sleep tonight with a nice victory to digest.

Apr 01

The 1-2 pitch

Chad Billingsley gave up a single to the first batter he faced today, Arizona infielder Ryan Roberts. It came on a 1-2 pitch. You never want to see that happen, though it’s easily forgiven if it comes on your pitch. Billingsley, instead, left a fastball over the plate and chest-high. Roberts grounded it to the left of shortstop Dee Gordon into center field. With a little luck, Roberts would have hit it a few feet over, into Gordon’s range. But there was as much luck for Billingsley as there was execution.

“Normally,” said Dodger commentator Rick Monday, “in your last outing in Arizona for Spring Training, you would say, ‘Well, it’s just a final tuneup.’ I really believe that for Chad Billingsley, this is more than just a final tuneup, because he has not been fine-tuned so far. And since this is his last outing, I think it’s imperative to get some batters behind in the count, as he had right here the leadoff hitter Roberts, (and) finish them off.”

“Imperative” would be an exaggeration – nothing’s imperative until at least the regular season starts. But shy of that, Monday’s overall point wasn’t lost. You want to see it done right.

Billingsley did do some things right – after walking Justin Upton with one out, he struck out Jason Kubel to start an inning-ending double play that found Aaron Hill (who had hit into a 9-6 bloop forceout) caught stealing by A.J. Ellis. Billingsley then struck out his first batter of inning two, Chris Young. But mostly, it was a rough outing – insufficiently sharp. The 27-year-old righty gave up four runs and six hits on 70 pitches in three innings, including two arguably wind-aided home runs to left field. He finished his 2012 exhibition season with a 5.91 ERA.

Monday was fairly relentless in his criticism of Billingsley throughout the three innings, and again, I was of two minds. The critique seemed a bit over the top for a practice game, even with the regular season coming later this week. At the same time, unless Billingsley was deliberately trying to hide his good stuff from his division, it was a hard outing to watch, both from individual and team standpoints.

I’m still wondering if the poor performance by Billingsley in the second half of 2011, following a solid first two months, was injury-related. I might never get the answer. But one scenario that certainly is possible is that Billingsley’s 2012 effectively becomes a repeat of Jonathan Broxton’s 2011. Problems from the second half of the previous season are never really solved, and the ensuing campaign becomes a lost one.

Without minimizing what this might mean for Billingsley’s career, it points to the cliff’s edge the Dodgers will be driving along in 2012. They’re counting on improvement from players like Billingsley, Andre Ethier (having the best kind of Spring Training) and James Loney. If those players instead take additional steps back, you’re basically left with asking the farm system (Nathan Eovaldi, Jerry Sands, etc.) to come to the rescue. They might succeed, just as Javy Guerra did for Broxton in 2011, but it’s a risky business.

That Clayton Kershaw had an uneven performance 24 hours before Billingsley, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings, offers a half-empty, half-full counterpoint. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… Kershaw said he was missing his spots and that his slider, which he had struggled with in his previous start six days earlier, still wasn’t quite right. But when asked if the slider was a concern now that the regular season is upon him, Kershaw said it isn’t.

“It can’t be,” he said. “April 5 is coming up pretty fast. You have to be ready to go.”

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt says he continues to see good sliders from Kershaw intermittently, but that the inconsistency could be the result of Kershaw trying to force the pitch, especially in light desert air where breaking balls tend not to break as much and where simply getting a proper grip on the ball can be tough.

“But he isn’t going to make that excuse, and I’m not going to make it for him,” Honeycutt said. “As long as he is healthy, that is the main thing. [The slider] isn’t something I’m worried about. He is going to continue to work on it until he feels comfortable with it.” …

Whatever the results of March 2012, hoping that Matt Kemp, Kershaw, Billingsley, Ethier and Loney perform to their previous peaks isn’t exactly the longshot of picking a MegaMillions jackpot. It could happen, and if it does, I wouldn’t call it a fluke – just good timing. That, plus new ownership itching to make a first impression, plus my perhaps irrational belief that Gordon is going to excite all expectations (“I’m a Deeliever,” I’ve started singing to myself), plus an awareness that other teams in the NL aren’t blessed with unlimited good fortune, is why I enter this season with the hope that the Dodgers can win at least 90 games and a spot in postseason roulette.

But the lack of Plan Bs makes the Dodgers’ 2012 season a perilous one, with 90 losses anything but a remote possibility. If Billingsley struggles, if Ted Lilly can’t stay healthy, if Juan Uribe is toast, if Kemp and Kershaw take perfectly reasonable steps back from their insane greatness of last year, and so on into the night, the Dodgers quickly run out of escape routes.

At the end, it all comes back to the beginning. You’re on the mound. You have a 1-2 count on the batter. You have talent, experience and an edge.

Can you make your pitch?

Can your defense save you when you don’t?

Can your offense save you when your defense doesn’t?

Can your management save you when your offense and defense can’t?

Mar 21

Kershaw-Lincecum 2011: Epic


ESPN.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com have a small package on the Clayton Kershaw-Tim Lincecum rivalry, including the video above and this story by Tim Keown. I contributed my own piece to the coverage, which begins thusly:

Clayton Kershaw’s third start of 2011 against the San Francisco Giants is largely forgotten. Having thrown 26 1/3 consecutive shutout innings against San Francisco, the young lefty hit a snag during which he allowed singles to seven Giants in an eight-batter stretch over the third and fourth innings May 18 in Los Angeles.

The first three singles came with two out in the third and led to a run. The next four led off the top of the fourth, and were followed by a walk to one Mike Fontenot and then a sacrifice fly by Aaron Rowand. As sudden as a storm, Kershaw found himself trailing 4-0.

But if the moment served to remind the world that Kershaw was human, it also seemed truly aberrational, a wayward asteroid in the Dodgers-Giants galaxy dominated by the rivalry between Kershaw and Tim Lincecum last season. For one thing, Lincecum didn’t start — Matt Cain was the beneficiary of San Francisco’s unexpected offense. For another, the Giants’ lead didn’t hold, thanks to an out-of-nowhere rally by the Los Angeles Dodgers capped by three runs in the bottom of the eighth. The deciding pitcher of the night was not Kershaw, but Lance Cormier, who surrendered a three-run game-winning home run to Cody Ross in the ninth. It was just the Giants and the Dodgers, acting nutty again.

In other words, when the stars weren’t aligned to bring Kershaw and Lincecum into the same orbit last season, there was little rhyme or reason to what might happen on the ballfield. But when they were, there was no altering the gravitational pull. Lincecum would pitch magnificently; Kershaw even more so. Each and every time. …

You can read my whole piece here.

Mar 19

Clayton Kershaw birthday flashback: Public Enemy No. 1

In honor of Clayton Kershaw’s 24th birthday today, let us return to a time of innocence and wonder.

It has only been four years and 10 days since I posted a video of the first game Kershaw pitched in that was broadcast by Vin Scully. Wearing uniform No. 96, Kershaw dazzled our fair Vinny with a curveball that froze Sean Casey of the Boston Red Sox.

That video, to my astonishment, earned more than 750,000 hits on YouTube before copyright issues forced its removal. I still have the original copy on my computer, but as far as online goes, it’s harder and harder to find. But here, in not-so-pristine condition, is a link to that video.

That afternoon, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com published a feature on the not-quite-20-year-old Kershaw.

… the buzz Kershaw has created with his 97-mph fastball and jaw-dropping curveball already had teammates raving. Then Torre watched another inning and joined in Clayton-mania.

“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Torre asked, knowing the answer.

He said the Dodgers were “not really looking at that” when asked if Kershaw was competing for the fifth-starter spot, although Torre didn’t say no, either. He said the No. 1 priority is Kershaw’s “well-being,” but acknowledged that “you never know for sure the best way to proceed.”

Meaning, if a young player is special enough, there’s no such thing as rushing him. Torre even used the word “special” to describe Kershaw’s curveball. He talked about Kershaw facing “a pretty good part” of a World Series championship lineup with a two-pitch repertoire. While discussing a still-developing changeup Kershaw throws to right-handed hitters, Torre couldn’t help but draw a reference to the greatest Dodgers left-hander of them all who, coincidentally, spent part of this game in the clubhouse talking pitching with Scott Proctor.

“There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve and he was pretty good,” said Torre. “But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. He’s not too far away from the changeup. He’s got it; it’s a matter of locating it.”

Yes, Kershaw’s got it. He’s also got the clubhouse sensing that an impact player has arrived. Catcher Russell Martin has already said Kershaw throws the best curveball he’s caught.

“He’s really good, man,” said Martin.

Kershaw would give the Dodgers a left-hander in an otherwise all-right-handed starting rotation. It’s hard to find a current Dodgers player who watches Kershaw and doesn’t believe he’s ready for the Major Leagues.

“I wish you could see a video of what I saw from center field,” said Matt Kemp, who made his spring debut in center field Sunday. “He throws that curveball so hard and it snaps 12 to six like you’ve never seen.”…

To think he has fulfilled so many expectations so far.  Amazing.  Happy birthday, Clayton.

Mar 18

The LaRussa factor

Don Newcombe at Camelback Ranch (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Angels at Dodgers, 1:05 p.m. (weather permitting)

It’s natural to speculate about which free-agent players the Dodgers might go after under new ownership, but one subject that hasn’t gotten as much talk is that of whom the next general manager might be.

Ned Colletti might need the Dodgers to at least win their division to survive the natural tendency for a new owner to hire a new lieutenant. If Colletti is replaced, logical successors include past or present Dodger executives like Kim Ng, De Jon Watson or Logan White.

However, the fact is that a revitalized Dodger franchise might be considered a prime target for some of the best active general manager candidates in baseball, if their contract status allows it.

To that end, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com writes that if Steven Cohen ends up with the franchise, there’s talk that Tony La Russa will take an executive role, above the general manager’s office, such as team president. If so, that could discourage several possible general manger candidates, who might question whether they’d have as much decision-making authority as they’d otherwise expect.

“All of this is speculation; the bidding is not nearly complete,” Rosenthal writes. “But, as rival execs see it, a GM such as the Tampa Bay Rays’ Andrew Friedman or Arizona Diamondbacks’ Kevin Towers likely would not leave their current situations for limited autonomy in L.A.”

  • J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News reported it was hailing at Camelback Ranch less than two hours before gametime today.
  • Ivan De Jesus Jr., who made a nice defensive play Saturday against the Giants and had been having a solid spring, has been sidelined indefinitely with an oblique strain. Kem Gurnick of MLB.com has details.
  • Non-roster invitee Alberto Castillo, who pitched for Arizona last year, was released by the Dodgers, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A., who adds that Will Savage, Matt Chico and Ryan Tucker were sent to minor-league camp.
  • This memorable ESPN the Magazine cover of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw was passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy. Seems to me the roles should have been reversed, but Kershaw is nothing if not a good sport.

Feb 22

Kershaw’s back jacked

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw proved last year he’s not one to back away from a challenge from Giants ace Tim Linecum. Perhaps that’s why Kershaw saw Lincecum’s stiff back from Tuesday  and countered with a stiff back of his own.

Neither condition is considered serious. Both pitchers skipped their scheduled bullpen sessions as a precaution.

* * *

  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports writes about Matt Kemp’s quest for a 50-50 season.
  • Jon Garland’s minor-league deal with Cleveland fell apart over his physical. Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk has a bit more.
  • Evan Bladh tells a story at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance about his childhood friendship, including playing Strat-o-Matic, with Clippers announcer Michael Smith.
  • I actually have had the desire at times to bring more sabermetrics into my entertainment reporting, as Noel Murray of the Onion’s A.V. Club suggests.
  • Steven Spielberg’s career as a high-school sportswriter gets a lively treatment from Bryan Curtis at Grantland.
  • My Match Game contest-offering sister Robyn uses one of her latest to blog about popular 1970s California potato chips at Bird Is the Word.
Feb 22

Early morning linking song


Good morning, starshiners …

  • Rubby De La Rosa, as we learned from our talk with De Jon Watson earlier this month, is feeling good. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.
  • Video of a five-inning perfect game Clayton Kershaw threw in high school — with 15 strikeouts, while also hitting a home run — has been passed along by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven.
  • The only coverage that you need to read of Ronald Belisario’s admission that he used cocaine is at Hardball Talk, namely the exchange between Craig Calcaterra and Aaron Gleeman.
  • Left-handed reliever Brent Leach, 29, has returned to the Dodger organization, tweets Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. Leach, who pitched 20 1/3 innings for the 2009 Dodgers, had a 5.95 ERA with a 1.729 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in eight starts for Yokohama in the Japan Central League last year.
  • Goldstein adds that the Dodgers also signed 25-year-old righty Jared Lansford, a 2005 second-round draft choice by the A’s whose father is former major-leaguer Carney Lansford. Jared had a 4.54 ERA with 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 48 Double-A relief appearances last year.
  • Statement from the team today: “”The Los Angeles Dodgers are pleased that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court has approved its revised Disclosure Statement, which keeps the Dodgers on track to emerge from Bankruptcy  as planned on April 30. Bidders have shown tremendous interest in the opportunity to purchase the Dodgers and related assets, and the Dodgers look forward to a very successful conclusion to their bankruptcy case.”
  • Finally, “The Don Zimmer ‘Zim Bear’ Will Haunt Your Kids’ Dreams” (via Hardball Talk)

Feb 13

The Emerald City prepares for Hong-Chih Kuo


On the heels of Alex Belth’s feature on Hiroki Kuroda came this piece by Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times (via Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.) on new Mariner lefty Hong-Chih Kuo. In the picture that runs with Baker’s article, I can’t say Kuo doesn’t look smart in that Seattle uniform, but maybe I just miss him.

… Kuo had battled a yips problem in 2009, then became arguably the game’s top reliever in 2010 with the Dodgers. In the interim, he’d worked with famed sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman to curtail his throwing issues.

But Dorfman passed away last February at age 75. By April, the yips troubles were once agan starting to overwhelm Kuo. He returned after the first DL stint, struggled again, then went back on the DL in May. I asked Kuo whether Dorfman’s death made it tougher for him to bounce back, since he could no longer phone him up for instant advice.

“Yes, it was hard,” he told me. “But you still have to fix it. It can’t come from somebody else.”

Then, he looked at me and pumped his chest with his fist.

“It has to come from inside here,” he said. “It has to come from inside me.” …

Elsewhere …

  • Ken Gurnick produced a status report on the Dodgers heading into Spring Training for MLB.com.
  • In its latest behind-the-scenes offseason video, ESPN.com checks in on Clayton Kershaw.
  • Dodger Thoughts softball teamer Matt Worland blogged at length about Saturday’s tournament. Here is part one and part two.
  • James Loney doesn’t look so bad, or as bad, now that the quality of National League first basemen has declined, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Twice-baked Dodger pitcher Jon Garland (remembered by Dodger Thoughts here) has signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland. He earned a $5 million base salary from the Dodgers in 2011.
  • Bob Timmermann posted a great historical piece on the Sports Arena at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence. I’d call it a must-read for any local sports fan.
  • More history: Mary Mallory of the Daily Mirror looks back at Eaton’s Rancho, which one sat at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard, currently home to a McDonald’s.
  • A soundtrack for season two of Treme goes on sale April 17 (and has just been added to my wish list). Here’s a link to the season-one soundtrack.
Feb 08

Scully wants to keep working


Above: Vin Scully talks in 2008 about meeting John Wooden.

Vin Scully has an interview in the March issue of Golf Digest (for now, I believe, it’s available only in print). Kevin Roderick of L.A. Observed links and excerpts:

Some people die twice: once when they retire, and again when they actually pass away. Fear of the first one is a big incentive for me to keep working. Players, writers, people who work at the ballpark and front office, when I quit I know I’ll never see them again. I’ve never been the type to come to the ballpark and hang out; I’ve gone to one game in the last 60 years that I wasn’t working. I keep working because I don’t want to lose my friends.

It’s an interesting passage, particularly for “when I quit I know I’ll never see them again,” since this would be up to Scully to a large extent. One could easily envision the kind of pilgrimages that John Wooden was the centerpiece of.

Roderick also notes this Scully quip about having bad teeth through the years: “if I were to write my autobiography — which I will never do, by the way — I would title it, ‘My Life in Dentistry.’”

Scully’s first Spring Training broadcast appearance will be March 17. Eric Stephen of breaks down the Dodger exhibition broadcast schedule at True Blue L.A.

Elsewhere …

  • TMZ has posted audio of a 911 call reporting James Loney’s freeway crash in November. No matter the legal disposition of the case, if you were there, it sounds like it must have been utterly frightening.
  • The Dodgers signed 37-year-old Jamey Wright to a minor-league deal. Wright hasn’t been a starting pticher since 2007, but his past season-and-a-half out of the Seattle bullpen was passable in a Mike MacDougal sense. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweeted that Wright can opt out of his contract in late March.
  • Former Dodger shortstop Bill Russell can be seen with former Yankee counterpart Bucky Dent in this commercial (posted by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy), airing at 1981 World Series time, for Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Dent sounds a little like a grown-up Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
  • Baly had a pleasant surprise when he went to the Dodger caravan Tuesday — he was there to see Clayton Kershaw as Kershaw’s new contract with the Dodgers was being announced.
  • Daily News writer Tom Hoffarth is auctioning an autographed copy of Kershaw’s book, “Arise,” at eBay, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support Friends of St. Lawrence – Watts Youth Center, which empowers the children and families of Watts through educational, advocacy, and enrichment programs.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN’s Sweet Spot looks at historical comparables for Kershaw. It starts on a downbeat note but gets more whammo after that. Schoenfield also invites you to an over-under game on Kershaw’s 2012 ERA here.
  • Evan Bladh passes along the story of Brooklyn Dodger batboy Charlie DiGiovanna at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • “What happened to the spitball?” Jonah Keri asks (and answers) at Grantland.
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: Mike Scioscia and Gary Carter together at Spring Training, February 1991.
  • Aaron Miles, who waited until this time last year to sign with the Dodgers, is waiting even longer for a 2012 contract this time around.
  • Not every baseball parking story has Frank McCourt’s name attached. “Fans of the New York Yankees may soon have to pay as much as $55 to park at Yankee Stadium thanks to the poor planning by New York City, the Yankees and a private firm that is running low on cash,” writes Rob Iracane at Big League Stew.
Feb 07

Dodgers sign Clayton Kershaw to two-year deal


The Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw have agreed to terms on a two-year contract that will keep him out of an arbitration deal at least until 2014, the year he could theoretically become a free agent over my dead body. Details on the deal to come …

Update: Dylan Hernandez of the Times tweets that the deal is worth $19 million. You would figure about $8.5 million of that would come this year and $10.5 million next year, though with the Dodger sale in progress, it might not slice quite like that.

By comparison, Tim Lincecum earned $23 million over his first two arbitration-eligible years (2010-11), which followed back-to-back Cy Young Award wins in 2008 and 2009.

Update 2: The contract is only slightly backloaded, reports Hernandez: $8 million (including a $500,000 signing bonus) in 2012, $11 million in 2013.

Update 3: The Dodgers will pay Kershaw and Matt Kemp a combined $18 million in 2012 and a combined $33 million in 2013. Kemp is earning $10 million this year and $20 million plus $2 million in deferred money next year.

Update 4: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports that $2 million of Kershaw’s 2012 salary is deferred, meaning he’ll be paid $6 million in 2012 and $13 million in 2013. That means the Kemp-Kershaw combo gets $16 million this year and $35 million next year.

Update 5: More from Jackson …

… Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti credited Alex Tamin, the club’s newly hired director of contracts, research and operations who was handing all the team’s arbitration cases for the first time, with coming up with a deal that was fair to both sides.

“It was a full-length process, and it took awhile,” Colletti said. “We had one-year discussions, two-year discussions and four-year discussions. There were a lot of different things in play all the time. Alex did a great job of managing it and keeping it level and giving us a chance at a multiyear deal that gives Clayton and his family some security. And for us, you know what you’re going to be paying (for two years).”

Said Kershaw of the deal: “There were a couple other options (in terms of years), but we felt like this was the best for both sides.” …

Feb 07

Infielder roulette

Monday was a day of past Dodger infielders making news, and present Dodger infielders become past ones.

  • Russell Mitchell was designated for assignment to make room on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster for Todd Coffey. He could return to the organization if he clears waivers. (Remembering 2011: Russell Mitchell)
  • Blake DeWitt, once upon a time known as “The Solution,” was designated for assignment by the Cubs, who acquired him in the Ted Lilly trade a couple years back. DeWitt, 26, had a 95 OPS+ (.305 on-base percentage, .413 slugging) with Chicago in 2011, compared with Adam Kennedy’s 79 OPS+ for Seattle – but don’t expect the Dodgers to give someone up to acquire DeWitt, who more likely would end up back in the minors for the Cubs.
  • Alex Cora is still at it, signing a minor-league deal with St. Louis.
  • Edwin Jackson reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million deal with Pittsburgh to sign with Washington for one year and $11 million, banking on doing better in next season’s free-agent market (or just determined to set a record for organizations in a career).
  • Dodgers assistant general manager of amateur and international scouting Logan White talked about some of his prize picks – Zach Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Reed – with David Laurila for Fangraphs.
  • Up-and-coming reliever Shawn Tolleson was profiled by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The late Jose Lima is the subject of a recent SABR biography by Rory Costello.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. is taking a day-by-day look at the Dodgers’ divisional rivals, starting with Arizona on Monday and continuing with San Francisco today.
  • Monday in Jon SooHoo: Blake Griffin and Matt Kemp.
  • Mark Prior is trying one more time to salvage his pitching career, writes Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (via Drew Silva of Hardball Talk). Prior last pitched in the majors in 2006 and won only two games after his 25th birthday.
  • Also aspiring to come back: Brandon Webb, out since Opening Day 2009.
  • Tim Lincecum talks about Clayton Kershaw, among other topics, in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Here’s a simple dice baseball game designed for kids ages 3-6, via Baseball Think Factory.
  • One last baseball-oriented remark about “Smash” that I tweeted: “Hilty is the proven veteran talent. McPhee is green but higher-ceiling. It’s Juan Rivera vs. Jerry Sands. Harang vs. Eovaldi.”  Except this wasn’t quite right. It’s more like A.J. Ellis vs. Tim Federowicz.
  • Ten years ago, while on detail for MLB.com in Venezuela, former Dodger communications vice president Josh Rawitch wrote about an up-and-coming Rivera.
  • In this terrific podcast interview, ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Kamenetzky brothers talk to Oscar-nominated actor Gary Oldman about, among many other things in a 45-minute chat, his great admiration and love for baseball.
  • This seemed to fascinate some folks on Twitter late Monday: Take a look at these NPR contributor bios, and see if their pictures match with your images of them.
Jan 26

Can Kershaw repeat?

At lunch Wednesday with Dodger publications director Jorge Martin, we marveled with glee not only at Clayton Kershaw’s magnificent 2011 season, but our inability, despite knowing all about how hard the job of pitching is, not to expect him to dominate every time out in 2012. Our heads tell us he might not pitch as well this year as last. Our hearts tell us he can pitch even better.

It got me to wondering how pitchers with seasons like Kershaw’s followed them up the following campaign. And the news isn’t exactly good.

Here are two charts – the first an appetizer, the second the main course:

Top 20 individual Dodger seasons since 1958

Player Year Age ERA+ ERA+ next year   Change
Koufax 1966 30 190 Retired  
Koufax 1964 28 188 160   -28
Hershiser 1985 26 171 90   -81
Brown 2000 35 169 151 * -18
Brown 2003 38 169 110 * -59
Kershaw 2011 23 163 TBD  
Sutton 1972 27 162 144   -18
Sutton 1981 35 161 112   -49
Koufax 1965 29 160 190   30
Koufax 1963 27 159 160   1
Nomo 1995 26 150 122   -28
Welch 1985 28 150 106   -44
Drysdale 1964 27 149 118   -31
Messersmith 1975 29 149 125   -24
Hershiser 1988 29 149 149   0
Hersisher 1989 30 149 88   -61
Hooton 1981 31 148 87 * -61
Penny 2007 29 147 67 * -70
Hooton 1977 27 147 130   -17
Reuss 1981 32 146 113   -33
Average   29 159 123 4 -33

* did not pitch enough innings to qualify for ERA title in following year

Top 50 individual MLB seasons since 1958, ages 21-25

Player Year Age ERA+ ERA+ next year   Change
P. Martinez 1997 25 219 163   -56
Z. Greinke 2009 25 205 100   -105
D. Chance 1964 23 198 108   -90
C. Buchholz 2010 25 187 122 * -65
V. Blue 1971 21 185 102 * -83
J. Santana 2004 25 182 155   -27
B. Saberhagen 1989 25 180 118   -62
K. Appier 1993 25 179 131   -48
M. Prior 2003 22 179 110 * -69
D. Righetti 1981 22 174 105   -69
F. Hernandez 2010 24 174 111   -63
T. Lincecum 2009 25 173 114   -59
F. Hernandez 2009 23 172 174   2
J. Peavy 2004 23 171 134   -37
J. D’Amico 2000 24 171 72 * -99
T. Lincecum 2008 24 169 173   4
J. Candelaria 1977 23 169 115   -54
R. Clemens 1986 23 169 154   -15
D. Ellsworth 1963 23 167 99   -68
K. Millwood 1999 25 167 99   -68
A. Anderson 1988 25 166 110   -56
K. Appier 1992 25 166 179   13
S. McDowell 1968 25 165 127   -38
T. Seaver 1969 24 165 143   -22
B. Webb 2003 24 165 129   -36
S. Carlton 1969 24 164 111   -53
M. Mussina 1994 25 164 145   -19
C. Kershaw 2011 23 163 TBD  
B. Sheets 2004 25 162 128   -34
G. Nolan 1972 24 162 102 * -60
T. John 1968 25 161 119   -42
S. McDowell 1965 22 161 120   -41
J. Magrane 1988 23 161 124   -37
C. Zambrano 2004 23 160 135   -25
A. Hammaker 1983 25 159 164 * 5
J. Jurrjens 2009 23 159 84 * -75
R. Halladay 2002 25 159 145   -14
M. Fidrych 1976 21 159 149 * -10
B. Zito 2002 24 158 135   -23
B. Blyleven 1973 22 158 142   -16
D. Bosman 1969 25 158 118   -40
M. Mussina 1992 23 157 100   -57
J. Guzman 1992 25 156 109   -47
R. Jones 1975 25 156 120   -36
A. Pettitte 1997 25 156 104   -52
F. Tanana 1977 23 154 99   -55
D. McLain 1968 24 154 135   -19
J. Palmer 1969 23 154 134   -20
R. Clemens 1987 24 154 141   -13
T. Glavine 1991 25 153 134   -19
Average   24 168 125 8 -43

As you can see, there’s a host of great names on these lists, including Hall of Famers and Hall of Very Gooders. Just because there’s a decline after a great season doesn’t mean that there weren’t great seasons in their future.

But a decline following a great season for a young pitcher is common, and on average pretty significant.

So the challenge for our dear Kershaw is to buck history. This much I’ll say – if anyone can do it, if anyone can imitate Sandy Koufax (at a younger age), he can.

Jan 17

Kershaw requests $10 million in arbitration

Clayton Kershaw has requested a $10 million salary for 2012 via arbitration, while the Dodgers have submitted a figure of $6.5 million. That puts the midpoint between the two at $8.25 million, which is in line with expectations for his 2012 paycheck.

In the absence of a multiyear deal (that is unlikely to come with the team so close to being sold), I have speculated that Kershaw would end up at $9 million. So I tend to believe Kershaw would win an arbitration hearing, but I also tend to believe that he and the Dodgers will settle in the mid-$8 million area.

Tim Lincecum, by the way, has put in for $21.5 million and been offered $17 million by the Giants.

Jan 13

Kershawing

Orel Hershiser probably took the most famous thanks-be-to-God knee in Dodger history, and in the aftermath of the 1988 season, religion became a small component of the Hershiser story. It did not bother me, though I could not relate to it at all.

On Tim Tebow, I have no opinion of significance. I’ve seen him play most infrequently, though I did catch a glimpse of his game-winning throw Sunday against Pittsburgh, a play of beauty. I gather that is more talented than your average bear but filled with heaps of inconsistency.  I also gather he is pious and sincerely so, though perhaps at times holier-than-thou. His politics might not be my politics, something that’s probably true of many athletes. He’s so far off my radar that I’ve never actually seen him perform the act of Tebowing. 

Someone I do have an opinion of is Clayton Kershaw, whom I would say is supremely talented, remarkably consistent and whom I’m led to believe is similarly devoted to his religious life as Tebow. In 2011, Kershaw earned his greatest national accolades with a Cy Young-winning season, yet relative to Tebow, I imagine Kershaw is still a largely undiscovered property. Tebow is a national phenomenon; while Kershaw is merely a superstar. There’s no catchphrase known as Kershawing.
 

It’s funny to be in the position of wondering whether I would be bothered or enthralled by Tebow if I were only paying more attention, instead of simply regarding him as a far-off curiosity. All I do know is that, as a person whose religious fervor is confined to the Great Dodger in the sky, I feel blessed to have the guy we have. 
 

Update: As it happens, about an hour after I drafted this post, the Dodgers announced that Kershaw and his wife Ellen will meet with the media at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday “to discuss their new book, titled ‘Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself,’ their latest trip to Africa and the upcoming 2012 Dodger season.”