Dec 05

Ron Santo Day news and notes

Congratulations, all too late, to Ron Santo on his Hall of Fame election today.

  • Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that “representatives for Clayton Kershaw have had early contact with the Dodgers about a long-term deal, but no serious talks have taken place.”
  • The Dodgers 2012 Spring Training schedule is official, starting with a March 5 opener against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. The final game will be April 1 against Arizona.
  • Dodger outfielder Jamie Hoffmann has been claimed on waivers by the Rockies, an indication that the team might be close to singing another major-leaguer. Aaron Harang is a name being bandied about. (Remembering 2011: Jamie Hoffmann)
  • Ken Gurnick of MLB.com recaps some recent Dodger minor-league contract signings: Jose Ascanio, Jeff Baisley, Wil Ledezma, Shane Lindsay and (almost official) Alberto Castillo.
  • Gurnick also writes that “Ronald Belisario, not seen by the Dodgers since 2010, is again working on obtaining a work visa that would allow him to return to the United States and compete for a Dodgers bullpen role next season.”
  • John Sickels of Minor League Ball released his Dodger prospect top 20.
  • Bill Buckner is another name being discussed for a Red Sox coaching position under Bobby Valentine, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.

    New Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine wants to add Bill Buckner to his coaching staff and the former Boston first baseman wants the job, but the team’s front office is resistant to the idea, a source close to Buckner said.

    Valentine and Buckner have been friends since 1968, the year they were both drafted by the Dodgers — Valentine in the first round, Buckner in the second.

    “I’ve watched his kids grow up and I respect his every opinion, in baseball and in worldly matters,” Valentine said at his introductory press conference last week in Boston.

    “Whether or not Bill Buckner would be on the staff is a decision that Ben (Cherington, the Boston general manager) will talk about or if anybody else is going to be on the staff, Ben and I will talk about it.

    “It’s not about friendship, it’s not about who was here in the past, it’s about who can do the specific jobs that need to be done.” …

  • Walter Alston would have turned 100 last week, and Howard Cole of Dodgers Blog at the Register commemorated the occasion.
Dec 04

Manny happy returns?

Wrapping up the last week and starting a new one chock full of bullet points …

  • Manny Ramirez is moving forward with plans to get himself back in the majors for 2012, but would probably to need to still serve 50 games as a suspended player, writes Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Ramirez, who turns 40 on May 30, went 1 for 17 with the Rays in 2011 before his season abruptly ended. He could show what shape he’s in with a nonroster invite to some team’s Spring Training.
  • The Dodgers are taking applicants to fill the position of vice president of public relations (link via AZ Snakepit). The Dodgers aren’t holding off until the ownership switch to make the hire: Public relations wait for no one.
  • Clayton Kershaw was interviewed by Molly Knight for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Baseball America’s annual Dodger prospects top 10 has Zach Lee on top, followed by Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and then the first position player, outfielder Alfredo Silverio. Looking at the article, you know what cracks me up? The fifth-highest amateur signing bonus in Dodger history still belongs to 2000 draftee Ben Diggins.
  • I think it’s worth a reminder that Lee could be in the majors before the 2012 season is over, though it probably wouldn’t be until 2013 that he begins making any kind of impact. He’s about a half-season behind the development of Kershaw, whose debut came in May 2008, 23 months after the Dodgers signed him. Lee, who had a 3.47 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 for Single-A Great Lakes, should hit Double-A in 2012 at age 20, the same age Kershaw was (though he’s not at the same performance level as Kershaw, who had 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes).
  • When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to manage, I joked on Twitter that his ESPN broadcast partners Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman could join him on the coaching staff. Well, in the case of Hershiser, the Red Sox are in fact interested in him as a pitching coach, writes Sean McAdam of Red Sox Talk – assuming Hershiser’s pursuit of Doger ownership doesn’t get in the way.
  • Some vintage Tommy Lasorda cursing is available in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Ross Newhan calls the theory a “longshot,” but he explains the substance behind why some think Frank McCourt could renege on his commitment to sell the Dodgers.
  • More Newhan, on Magic Johnson’s entrance into the Dodger ownership race:

    … In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

    This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process. …

  • Two views of the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn’t hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
  • DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
  • Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
Nov 30

Hey, what’s going on?


Some midweek news and notes …

  • Best friend of Dodger Thoughts and ESPN reporter Molly Knight and her friend and fellow ESPN contributing writer Anna Katherine Clemmons have had the story of their cross-country road trip (which began as fodder for a magazine article) optioned for a movie. My Variety colleague Jeff Sneider has the details.
  • Larry King is reportedly joining the Dennis Gilbert-headed group bidding to by the Dodgers, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Hank Aaron inquired whether Medallion Financial Corp., on which he serves on the board of directors, might make a bid to by the Dodgers, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. The answer: No.
  • A bow-hunting trip (no, not the kind where you hunt Ken Rosenthal’s ties) with Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur and manager Ned Yost helped lure Jonathan Broxton to Kansas City, writes Kevin Kernan of the New York Post (via Hardball Talk).
  • Jim Breen of Fangraphs takes a closer look at Kenley Jansen’s dominant fastball, an interesting piece given what we’ve heard of Jansen’s eventual desire to emulate Mariano Rivera. “The 24-year-old not only threw approximately 87% fastballs in 2011, but he also filled up the strike zone,” writes Breen. “Only relievers Matt Belisle, Octavio Dotel, and Matt Capps threw more pitches inside the zone than Jansen. So opposing hitters knew which pitch he was going to throw and knew that it would more than likely be within the strike zone, but opposing hitters still struck out 44% of the time.”
  • Here are some childhood photos of Clayton Kershaw with longtime buddy Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions quarterback.
  • And, here’s a great prep school picture of birthday boy Vin Scully via Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
  • Some nifty portraits accompany this interview by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven with artist Tommervik.
  • Evan Bladh looks back at the 2003 Dodgers at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Ken Arneson discusses the two systems of thought with regards to statistics, and how they relate to kids learning to read.
  • In a guest post for The Platoon Advantage, Dan Hennessy explains why “the less I hear my team’s name associated with free agency, the happier I am.”
  • Very, very cool skiing and outdoors footage in “Winter,” which will screen at the Village in Westwood on Sunday.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen “Beginners” with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent and Goran Visnjic, I really recommend it.
Nov 17

Wrapping up a big day with Newk and friends

“As the winner of the first Cy Young Award, I am so very proud of Clayton Kershaw and his outstanding performances that led to his receiving the 2011 Cy Young Award. I am reminded of Sandy Koufax whenever I see Clayton pitch and feel that there is a deep comparison between the two. Clayton has an outstanding work ethic, as did Sandy, which will show itself through Clayton’s baseball career.”

Don Newcombe

  • Cliff Corcoran of SI.com has a well-done piece looking at Clayton Kershaw’s workload and how it could mean he’s in for an early decline – or, conversely, that he’s on a Hall of Fame path. Corcoran concludes by recommending the Dodgers not dally in signing Kershaw to a big contract extension.
  • ESPN.com looks at the adjustments Kershaw made to become a Cy Young winner.

* * *

In case you missed it amid the Cy Young news, baseball has engineered a major realignment. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West, there will be interleague play throughout the season, and biggest of all, there will be two wild-card teams in each league, who will face off in a one-game playoff. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com examines the changes from all angles, while DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block reacts to the realignment news and potential increase in interleague games by discussing whether NL teams should keep a designated-hitter type on their roster.

* * *

No, Matt Kemp, we haven’t forgotten about you:

  • David Golebiewski of Baseball Analytics has a deep examination of how Kemp is able to maintain a high batting average on balls in play.
  • For a change of pace, here’s Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation with a history of … Matt Kemp trade rumors!
Nov 17

Remembering 2011 and looking beyond: Clayton Kershaw


Getty ImagesBrothers in arms …

Baseball is a team sport that honors individual accomplishments like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Who is more revered in Los Angeles, the 1963 and 1965 world champion Dodgers, or Sandy Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, is surely Koufax.

It’s a choice between heaven and nirvana, a hypothetical beyond the heretical, one you need not fret over. You never have to have one without the other. But while those Dodgers were angels, Koufax is a god.

So when Clayton Kershaw draws comparisons to Koufax, it is no small matter. It is a very large matter, larger in some ways than the Dodgers’ passing another year without becoming world champions, and larger certainly than Kershaw’s fate in the 2011 National League Cy Young Award balloting.

Don’t misunderstand me — Kershaw winning today’s award is a big deal, a wonderful, rip-roaring accomplishment, and yet at the same time, the celebration of his victory is about 1/1,000,000,000th of how nuts Dodger fans will go the next time they’re the last team to leave the field at the end of a season. But if Kershaw turns about to be another Koufax, a living, breathing Zeus throwing lightning bolts from his pitching Olympus, that’s going to resonate through history even more.

Koufax is a Los Angeles Dodger who is honored like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Is Kershaw going to be even better than Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, may cause heart palpitations across an entire Dodgers universe.

Through age 23, Kershaw has 716 1/3 innings, 745 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.173 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 135.

Through age 23, Koufax had 516 2/3 innings, 486 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.461 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 100.

At the age that Kershaw became a Cy Young Award winner, Koufax had a 4.05 ERA in 153 1/3 innings in which he walked 92. Koufax didn’t have a significantly above-average season until he was 25 and wasn’t ever mentioned on a Cy Young ballot until he won the award for the first time at age 27.

Comparisons are never perfect — Jane Leavy’s Koufax biography is one of several sources that describes manager Walter Alston’s ambivalence about using the young Koufax, leaving open the possibility that Alston hampered Koufax’s early development. And surely, there’s no guarantee that even though Kershaw is better than Koufax was at age 23, he’ll still be better from ages 26-30, when Koufax, at the height of his astonishment, pitched 1,377 innings, struck out 1,444 with an ERA+ of 167.

Who knows if Kershaw will ever reach a World Series, let alone pitch in four of them with a 0.95 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 57 innings, including back-to-back shutouts with 10 strikeouts apiece with only two days in between?

But in the race across time between Koufax and Kershaw, Koufax is the tortoise, and Kershaw is the hare, except that he’s a hare with a head on his shoulders, not to mention better medical.

Scouts told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com all the different ways Kershaw can still improve. “That change[up] is still a work in progress,” one scout said. “The curveball has a chance to be really good. I had his fastball from 89 [mph] all the way up to 96. So I don’t think he is where he is going to be yet, not anywhere near it.”

Koufax won three Cy Young Awards and finished in third place for another. Already, Kershaw is more than a quarter of the way there. He’s 23, and should remain a Dodger past Koufax’s age of retirement, 30. Kershaw is the kind of pitcher who people will make pilgrimages to see for decades after he has left the playing field, who can carry a franchise’s legacy even if the franchise itself is too weak to build upon its own.

It could all go haywire in an instant, so easily that when I ask this question …

Can Kershaw do it over the long haul?

… the answer, I believe, is let’s see. Yes, please, let’s see.

* * *

We saw this coming. Looking ahead to the 2011 season in February, we could say the following:

… He’s not a Fernando or a Sandy. Not even a Piazza or (for that brief, baggage-heavy moment) a Manny. He’s not a “Bulldog” or a “Game Over.”

He’s still a plain old guy with two plain old names, with a humble personality to match — a wolf in sheepish clothing.

If you say Clayton Kershaw is the best player on the Dodgers, you won’t necessarily get an argument, but you might get a shrug. With disappointment still dripping from the team’s 2010 season, “best player on the Dodgers” won’t earn you much more than a patronizing pat on the head, maybe an extra juice box after practice. For now, anyway.

Sometimes it happens practically overnight, the way it seemed to with Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza. Other times — more often, really — it’s years in the making, as with Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne.

Either way, there’s an explosion within reach for Kershaw — oh, you better believe there is. He turns 23 on March 19, and soon after, he might turn Dodger Stadium back into a place where fans are racing through the crowds for their seats, the way they did for those transcendent heroes of the recent or distant past, for no other reason than to drool over his next pitch or exult in his supremacy. …

Kershaw’s 2010 season had been very, very good — a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings — so good that if he had regressed in 2011, he still could have had a very good season. Despite shutting out San Francisco over seven innings on Opening Day, Kershaw’s first month of 2011 looked like it would fall into that groove. Even with 41 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, inconsistency left him holding a 3.52 ERA at the end of April.

May was our first sign that something really special was within reach. He started six games and allowed eight runs, pitching 40 2/3 innings with a 1.77 ERA and 46 strikeouts, finishing the month with a two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Florida in which neither hit was a hard one.

But June started with two absolutely carking games. (Note: “Carking” is both archaic and a bit inaccurate, but it sounds exactly like the word I want.) On June 4 at Cincinnati, Kershaw had faced the minimum number of batters in the sixth inning, only to have things slip away for six runs over the next two innings. Five days later, Kershaw virtually repeated himself in Colorado. His ERA zipped back up to 3.44, and “learning experience” again elbowed its way into the picture.

Now here’s where things really get fun.

Over his final 19 starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only 24 earned runs. He pitched 141 2/3 innings with 146 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA. Opponents had a .236 on-base percentage and .285 slugging percentage.

Over his final nine starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only seven earned runs. He pitched 65 2/3 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 0.96 ERA. Opponents had a .225 on-base percentage and .274 slugging percentage.

There were pitches he would have liked to have had back, but not many, not many at all.

He pitched another two-hit shutout June 20. He need only eight pitches for a perfect fifth inning with a strikeout in the All-Star Game. He struck out 12 in eight shutout innings on July 20 to beat Tim Lincecum for the second time in 2011, struck out nine in eight innings while allowing only an unearned run to beat Lincecum again Sept. 9, then earned his fourth win over Lincecum (and 20th of the season) on Sept. 20 by allowing one earned run in 7 1/3 innings.

With a triumphant final outing against San Diego on Sept. 25, Kershaw (21-50 ended his year with a league-leading 248 strikeouts, 0.977 WHIP and 2.28 ERA and an adjusted ERA of 163 that was a hair behind Roy Halladay’s 164.

Should Halladay, who pitched home games in a more challenging park, have won the Cy Young? If you think so, I won’t try to dissuade you. I’ll just relax with this.

Halladay, 34, is a true Hall of Fame candidate, practically the gold standard for pitching over the past four seasons with by far the best adjusted ERA during that span. When Halladay was 23, he allowed 80 earned runs in 67 2/3 innings for a 10.64 ERA.

It was a close call for who should be called the best pitcher in the NL today. But one, just one, is so amazing at such a young age, that when I ask this question …

What pitcher in baseball would you most like to have right now?

… only one answer should come to your mind: Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Nov 03

Book it: New owners will long-term Clayton Kershaw

Nothing’s guaranteed, so knock on wood, but this is as close as you’ll get with something this important.

Thanks to the timing of the Dodgers’ ownership transition, count on Clayton Kershaw remaining a Dodger for years and years and years — until at least the end of the decade or close to it.

Matt Kemp might get away (though hopefully not) because the next Dodger owner might not be in place in time to lock him up before Opening Day, and might not outbid other teams if Kemp becomes a free agent.

But there’s no way new ownership, who will be properly vetted by the industry, backed by the next Dodger local TV deal and fully conscious of the import of retaining the closest the Dodgers have come in 45 years to reinventing Sandy Koufax, will not sign Kershaw to a long-term deal before November 2014, when Kershaw can become a free agent. He’ll get a long-term deal, whatever it takes.

Kershaw is yours.

Update: Kershaw won the MLB Players Choice Award for outstanding National League pitcher, while Matt Kemp was voted NL outstanding player.

Oct 25

How dare you accuse me of doing the thing I already planned to do!

Major League Baseball has put a number and a name to what Frank McCourt has done with the Dodgers: “$189.16 million” and “looting.” ESPNLosAngeles.com and Bill Shaikin of the Times have more.

I want to call out the last two paragraphs of Shaikin’s story:

… The Dodgers also charge Selig with bad faith in declaring he would reject any television contract proposed by McCourt. The league claims any deal would necessarily require McCourt to divert some team revenue for personal use, including a $130-million divorce settlement.

That claim, the Dodgers said, is “simply make believe.”

We have been down this road before …

Dodger Thoughts, April 27:

… In a nod to the concerns over how much Dodger revenue he and his now-estranged wife had allocated for personal spending, McCourt said today that the proposed Fox deal would include an immediate payment of $300 million going directly into the Dodgers.

“None of those dollars (would be) used in any personal way,” McCourt said.

Dodger Thoughts, July 22:

Selig then delved into McCourt’s plan to put the 35% equity interest in Fox Sports Net West 2 that the Dodgers would receive into a holding company separate from the franchise, as well as his plan to take at least 45% from the $385 million up-front payment to settle personal debts.

Look, we all know that McCourt, if he somehow wins in the TV rights hearing, will be on track to have so much money coming in that he’ll be able to paper over all his sins — paper ‘em with green. But come on — no matter how many machinations he drums up, the idea that TV money would not play some role, explicit or implicit, in resolving his enormous debts is about as far from the Neighborhood of Make Believe as one can travel.

* * *

  • Jerry Sands’ midseason swing adjustments have been carefully analyzed by Chad Moriyama. “To say I’m impressed by the changes that have taken place is an understatement,” Moriyama writes.
  • Clayton Kershaw is going back to Africa for the second consecutive offseason. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy passed along an MLB.com clip with a Kershaw interview from the World Series. By committing $100 in Kershaw’s Challenge to Arise Africa for every strikeout he had this year to build an orphanage, Kershaw donated $24,800. The challenge has about $20,000 remaining to reach its goal of $70,000. Donate here.
  • It’s come to this: Andrew T. Fisher of Rockies blog Purple Row is optimistic about center fielder Dexter Fowler improving in 2012 because he will be working out this offseason with Matt Kemp.
  • A round of the aghastly reaction to Tony LaRussa’s managing of Game 5 Monday has been pulled together by Jeff Gordon of STLtoday.com. Sample:  “As La Russa played subterfuge artist, offering a story dotted with holes unbecoming of a man with a law degree, it was obvious that he was trying to protect someone, and he would go to such lengths only to save himself,” wrote Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
  • Mark Townsend of Yahoo! Sports summarizes the five outs the Cardinals gave away Monday.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has an update on 25-year-old Japanese ace Yu Darvish, who might be coming to the U.S.

    … Last week, I polled five agents and one team executive about Darvish’s potential posting fee and contract. Guesses on the posting fee ranged from $30-55MM, with the team executive making the highest prediction. The average of the six guesses was $45MM. As for the contract, most people predicted a five or six-year deal in the $72-75MM range. One agent wondered if the winning team will “try to force some options down his throat,” especially if it’s the Blue Jays.

    The bottom line: everyone I talked to expects a minimum of a $100MM commitment to acquire Darvish if he’s posted this year. …

  • A “treasure trove” of records of the Philadelphia A’s has been found, notes Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk, and are “now in the hands of a historian who is making a big documentary about Connie Mack.”
Sep 25

Kershaw wraps up Cy Young-worthy campaign


Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw allowed a walk, a single, a double, a triple and a home run in 7 1/3 innings.

Having provided joy to the world, the fishes and the deep blue sea all season long, Clayton Kershaw can expect a little joy for himself: the National League Cy Young Award.

If Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Orel was a bulldog, Clayton is the whole hog.

Kershaw put the final touches on his portfolio today, finishing his 2011 campaign with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts, both of which lead the league, while winning his 21st game in the Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over San Diego – all but ensuring himself the pitcher’s triple crown.

(It was the Dodgers’ 80th victory of the year, putting them one away from a winning season.)

Today for Philadelphia, Roy Halladay pitched six shutout innings, striking out three, to finish at 19-6, 2.35 with 220 strikeouts. Cliff Lee, scheduled to pitch Monday for the Phillies, has allowed 60 earned runs in 226 2/3 innings for a 2.38 ERA with 232 strikeouts. He needs 16 strikeouts to match Kershaw, and would need to pitch at least 10 2/3 shutout innings to beat him for the major-league ERA title.

So short of Ian Kennedy making a relief appearance against the Dodgers on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and stealing a 22nd win, the triple crown belongs to Kershaw, who also leads the National League in park-adjusted ERA.

Meanwhile, though he didn’t reach 250 strikeouts and catch Justin Verlander for the major-league lead, Kershaw finished 2011 with the most strikeouts in Los Angeles Dodger history in a season since Sandy Koufax retired (per the Dodger press notes):

382 Sandy Koufax, 1965
317 Sandy Koufax, 1966
306 Sandy Koufax, 1963
269 Sandy Koufax, 1961
251 Don Drysdale, 1963
248 Clayton Kershaw, 2011

* * *

Kershaw retired the first eight batters he faced today on 29 pitches, striking out four of the eight, before an inexplicable walk to Padres pitcher Cory Luebke, but Kershaw struck out Cameron Maybin to end the third inning.

In the fourth, Kershaw allowed his first hit, a line single by Nick Hundley, but immediately picked him off – Kershaw’s 10th pickoff of the season, according to Vin Scully.

Chris Park/APKershaw is congratulated as he leaves the field for the last time in 2011.

The Padres finally scored against Kershaw in the fifth inning, when Aaron Cunningham hit a no-doubt homer with the bases empty and two out in the fifth. It was Cunningham’s third homer this season and sixth in his career.

Aaron Miles made two plays to take away San Diego hits, highlighted by a spectacular diving stop of a second-inning shot by Orlando Hudson that would have been a double. In the fifth, Miles charged less gracefully on a slow Alberto Gonzalez grounder and threw late to first, but the Dodgers’ got the generous call.

Retiring the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings on 25 tosses, Kershaw entered the final two innings having thrown only 82 pitches. But in the eighth, the two players robbed by Miles got their revenge. Hudson got his overdue double to lead off the inning, then scored the Padres’ second run on Gonzalez’s triple one out later to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 6-2.

Don Mattingly came to the mound, and we bid farewell to Kershaw for 2011.

Kenley Jansen relieved Kershaw, and just as he did against the Giants on Tuesday, he struck out both batters he faced. That put Jansen at 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings this season, making him at this point the all-time single-season record holder in that category with three games remaining in 2011. Jansen has struck out 31 of his past 49 batters, including 31 of his past 37 outs.

Javy Guerra pitched the ninth with a four-run lead, so he didn’t get a save, but he did preserve the victory for the magnificent Kershaw.

* * *

On the Triple Crown and Most Valuable Player scene, Ryan Braun continued to make it a challenge for Matt Kemp. Braun went 2 for 3, including his 33rd home run, in Milwaukee’s rout of Florida, boosting his batting average to .333 and giving anyone leaning toward him for MVP that much more ammunition.

Jeffrey Phelps/APRyan Braun went 5 for 10 with a walk and 14 total bases in three games against Florida.

Jose Reyes, meanwhile, went 2 for 4 to improve his batting average to .331.

Kemp got off to a good start, with a double to the left-center gap that raised his average to .326 and drove home Jamey Carroll with RBI No. 120.  But then fortune stopped smiling.

  • In the third inning, Kemp hit a sky-high ball to the warning track in right-center field that Scully said would have been a home run in Dodger Stadium.
  • In the fifth, Kemp reached first on a slow roller that went under the glove of Padres third baseman Alberto Gonzalez, a ball that the official scorer seemed to correctly call an error, though some tweets from the press box indicated that the decision would be reconsidered after the game.
  • In the seventh, Kemp struck out against reliever Luke Gregerson on three pitches, leaving him .008 behind Braun.
  • In the ninth, granted an extra at-bat when Rod Barajas hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Dodgers a 6-1 lead, Kemp struck out again.

Kemp did come away with the 18th season of at least 120 RBI in Dodger history.

It’s not over for Kemp, however, as far as the Triple Crown. An 0 for 4 from Braun would knock three points off his batting average in one day – if Kemp can rev up his bat in Arizona, he’s back in business.

Sep 24

September 24 game chat

Once more unto the breach, dear friends …

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com traces Clayton Kershaw’s development to superstar.

    … When Kershaw’s second pitch in the top of the sixth inning hit Parra on his front elbow, plate umpire Bill Welke ejected the pitcher immediately.

    The next day I asked the same veteran player who had told Kershaw it would be OK to back away from this fight whether or not Kershaw had proved something to him, whether he liked him more or less than he had the day before.

    “Neither,” the player said. “I already knew him.” …

  • Here’s an interview on YouTube with Vin Scully talking about Matt Kemp, Kershaw and more, courtesy of Marty Caswell.
  • Peter Gammons endorses Kemp for NL MVP in a long piece at MLB.com.
  • Joe Block of Dodger Talk speculates that, because of the theory of “progression to the mean,” injuries deprived Juan Uribe the opportunity to recover from his poor first half of the season.
  • Kevin Baxter of the Times runs a list of the top 10 free agents this offseason alongside the cautionary tale of the top 10 free-agent flops of last offseason.
  • John Sickels of Minor League Ball checks in on some minor-leaguers with major-league bloodlines, including one Matt Scioscia.
Sep 20

Hoop, there it is: Kershaw wins 20th

If you’re a fish, one place you never want to be is in a barrel, because folks with deadly aim, like Clayton Kershaw, are always shooting at you.

But tonight, I’m going to grant clemency to our underwater friends and describe Clayton Kershaw’s dominance in a different way.

Free throws.

Unlike basketball, baseball isn’t supposed to have free throws. Every action on the diamond that affects or prevents scoring is contested. Theoretically.

But in what is looking more like a Cy Young Award-winning season at age 23, punctuated by tonight’s 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants, Kershaw has become Calvin Murphy at the line. You can wave bats or banners in his face or jump up and down in a rainbow wig, and Kershaw just sets, shoots and swishes.

In fact, it has become so seemingly automatic for Kershaw, whose latest incredible feat is besting Lincecum an unfathomable four times out of four (with an 0.33 ERA) in this 20-win  season, the first by a Dodger since Ramon Martinez in 1990, that it wouldn’t surprise if Kershaw started tossing ball after ball through the home-plate hoop underhanded like Rick Barry. Or maybe you’re a fan of Harlem Globetrotter-style trickery, which Kershaw displayed by picking off two of the  runners that reached base against him.

You can foul him, you can freeze him, you can drive at him or away from him, but you can not faze this Clayton Kershaw. Sometime soon, he’s going to go to his mailbox and find a package from George Gervin containing the nickname “Ice.” 

“With my compliments,” the note will say. 

It’s understood, as if stipulated in court, that Kershaw brings no-hit stuff to every game. When San Francisco leadoff man Andres Torres reached base on a first-inning grounder that Miles backhanded but threw awry, the official scoring was an error, justified in part by the play and in part by an obvious desire not to preempt history. When, one batter after Torres was caught stealing, Carlos Beltran got the game’s first hit with a limp bird of a knock over shortstop, the “oh, please” sigh was perceptible throughout Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw only allowed one runner to reach third base in his first seven innings, mostly dominating Giants hitters while occasionally turning them into tourist patsies called on stage by a Vegas hypnotist. The slow, 74 mph curveball, more a part of Kershaw lore (his Rat Pack days) than his fastball-slider headlining present, was reprised like Sinatra calling back “My Way,” swooning Torres to end the third inning and Brett Pill in the midst of a perfect seventh.

So what happened in the eighth inning? Murphy missed 419 free throws in his 13-year NBA career, so occasionally one inning does go clank. After Kershaw retired Justin Christian, Giants catcher Chris Stewart homered just over the wall in left-center to spoil the lefty’s shutout. The next two batters, pinch-hitter Pat Burrell and Torres, walked, and suddenly seemingly everything was in jeopardy, and you remembered that Kershaw had turned baseball into a free-throw exhibition because he kind of had to. The margin for error with this Dodger team has been that small.

They say when you pull a pitcher from a game, as Kershaw was by Don Mattingly at that point after 115 pitches, “his night is done.” But as Kershaw sat in the dugout watching intently while Kenley Jansen replaced him, his night was not done. Not in his mind, not in the Dodgers’ minds, not in the minds of the Dodger Stadium announced crowd of 32,526 — an essentially legit account for once not of empty seats but of people, making as much noise as has been heard at this ballpark all season — and not in the minds of the legions of Dodger fans following the game from near and far, desperately willing Kershaw closer to victory and his postseason prize.

Fortunately, Jansen is the one guy right now who can make Kershaw look like Shaquille O’Neal at the charity stripe. On seven total pitches, the big burly righty struck out Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, giving Jansen a billionty Ks per inning since the All-Star break.

Javy Guerra then overcame his own throwing error to start the ninth by getting Pill to fly out and Aubrey Huff to hit into a 3-6-3 double play, and it was over. 

Cut down the nets and drape them around Kershaw’s neck. The Dodgers are not champions, but he is. There are so many ways to compliment Clayton Kershaw that, well … fish, be on your guard.

Sep 20

Best wishes to Derrick Hall

Tough news out of Arizona: Diamodbacks CEO and former Dodger executive Derrick Hall has prostate cancer. More from the Diamondbacks’ official site:

… A date for surgery to remove the tumors has not yet been scheduled. Hall underwent a series of tests recently and had a prostate biopsy performed on Sept. 14.

“I was informed by my doctor while in San Diego with the team Saturday,” Hall said. “I am fortunate the disease was caught in the early stages and expect a full recovery. I will use this news as an opportunity to educate and drive awareness, while hopefully saving more lives in the future. I am in great hands, and my family and I are confident we will get through this successfully. I notified all of my staff immediately and am eternally grateful for the overwhelming support, love and prayers.”

Hall underwent a PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test, which resulted in elevated numbers and then underwent the prostate biopsy. That test was diagnosed as positive and revealed cancerous tumors.

D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick is a prostate cancer survivor. …

* * *

    Congrats to Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illnesshe’s engaged! To his girlfriend! She finally bagged her a Homer.
  • Matt Kemp won the Dodgers’ Roy Campanella Award, “given to the Dodger player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame catcher.” Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, James Loney, Juan Pierre and Jamey Carroll are previous winners of the six-year-old trophy.
  • Frank McCourt winning his hearing on TV rights, Tony Gwynn Jr.’s close friendship and James Loney’s willingness to move to left field — all reasons to speculate about Prince Fielder coming to Los Angeles, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Manny Ramirez plans to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this year, reports The Associated Press.
  • Tommy Lasorda will be in uniform as an honorary coach for the Dodgers’ home finale September 22, which happens to be the birthday of Lasorda, my daughter and Molly Knight.
  • From the Dodger press notes: Dee Gordon “is tied the for NL lead along with Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio with 28 September hits and ranks fifth on the circuit with a .373 batting average this month (28-for-75). The 23-year-old also leads the Majors with nine stolen bases in 17 September games and overall ranks second among NL rookies with 21 steals in 27 attempts (77.8%). Gordon went 3-for-4 on Sunday to extend his career-long hitting streak to six games and is batting .423 (11-for-26) since the run began on Sept. 13. He is batting .337 (35-for-104) in the season’s second half, which ranks sixth among NL qualifiers.”
  • Tonight’s matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum reunites two pitchers who, as of now, are in the top 20 in major-league history in adjusted ERA for starting pitchers (minimum 700 innings), according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Sep 20

Lee’s surge complicates road to Cy Young for Kershaw


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireClayton Kershaw is set to finish his season with starts tonight and then Sunday in San Diego.

How heated is the National League Cy Young competition? The top four candidates — Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (in alphabetical order) — have a combined September ERA of 1.46.

Kennedy continued his late bid for recognition by pitching eight innings of one-hit ball with 12 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory for Arizona, which built its lead to 5 1/2 games in the NL West, while Halladay gave up a sliver of ground by allowing four runs in a 4-3 Phillies loss to St. Louis.

Kershaw and Lee — both red-hot of late, both scheduled to start tonight — have the opportunity to affirm themselves as the two top finalists for the award. In particular, if Kershaw bests Tim Lincecum for a fourth time in 2011 tonight, that’s going to be memorable.

For the first time, I’m starting to think that Halladay and Lee being teammates could hurt the award chances of both. Up until very recently, I’ve felt that the award was Halladay’s to lose, given that he pitches for the best team in the NL and that he’s pitched so well — his numbers are virtually equal to Kershaw’s (see chart below), with a slightly lower strikeout rate but better control, and higher wins above replacement.

However, Lee’s amazing stretch run —a 0.56 ERA in 64 2/3 innings since August 1 — has helped him catch up to the leaders and throw more confusion into the race. If you’re a voter who wants to honor the Phillies in some way with this award (given that the MVP race doesn’t really offer that opportunity), whom do you pick?

Now, if you watched “Modern Family” win bunches of Emmys on Sunday despite multiple nominations in those categories, you learned that teammates don’t always bring each other down. Still, as much as Lee presents another rival to Kershaw, he could also aid the Dodger by stealing votes from Halladay.

Voters who treasure wins may lean toward Kennedy, who certainly has been no slouch. But if Kershaw ends up with 20 wins himself, I think you can remove that category as a path to Kennedy leapfrogging the Dodger lefty.

In fact, much has been made lately of Kershaw possibly winning the pitcher’s triple crown: wins, ERA and strikeouts. My guess is that if he does, he will collect the Cy Young (though for me, the win totals are essentially irrelevant).

But let’s put it this way: If Kershaw doesn’t finish first in the balloting, there will be no crime. Halladay and Lee have been every bit as fierce as Kershaw. It’s been a superb year for all of them.

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP W-L ERA Sept. ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9 K/BB
Roy Halladay 227 2/3 18-6 2.41 2.03 160 7.1 8.0 1.045 8.58 6.38
Cole Hamels 206 14-9 2.80 4.18 138 5.1 5.0 0.981 8.13 4.54
Ian Kennedy 216 20-4 2.88 1.88 137 5.3 4.9 1.083 8.08 3.66
Clayton Kershaw 218 2/3 19-5 2.30 0.90 161 6.4 6.8 0.983 9.71 4.63
Cliff Lee 219 2/3 16-7 2.38 0.72 162 6.7 6.5 1.015 9.14 5.31

* * *

  • By the way, this caught me by surprise, but Kershaw is no longer leading the NL in strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Greinke of Milwaukee is on top.
  • Chad Moriyama has a mammoth analysis of James Loney that you need to read, in which Moriyama analyzes both Loney’s stats and his swing. Conclusions:

    … What fans want to hear is that Loney has simply flipped a switch and will now pull 35% of balls and put up an OPS near .900 going forward. While I wish my analysis could guarantee that, it’s simply not a feasible conclusion to reach.

    What is clear though is that Loney has changed his approach and swing over the last two months in a way that has drastically affected his hit distribution and production. As such, the possibility does exist that his numbers could improve significantly in 2012 if the changes he has made carry over on a consistent basis.

    That said, all of my findings are subject to the usual sample size critiques, which is precisely why nothing about this is a sure thing. However, I have shown that Loney’s change under Hansen has absolutely happened, and looking at the free agent list at first base for 2012, unless the Dodgers can get Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Lance Berkman, I’d rather give Loney another shot if he comes at a reasonable salary (4-6 million?) even though I had previously preferred signing Carlos Pena (probably more expensive).

    When talking about baseball players, hope is part of what makes the game so fun to follow, but it can also be a dangerous thing, especially when that hope is invested in a 27-year-old first baseman with a .749 OPS/103 OPS+ over four full seasons. Still though, as of now, I’m more willing to take a chance on Loney than ever before.

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a really nice feature centering on A.J. Ellis that will only make you root for him more.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times looks at the increasingly favorable comparisons of Kershaw with Sandy Koufax.
  • Jonathan Broxton had his elbow surgery Monday, with “a bone spur and associated loose bodies” being removed.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has an update on ailing catcher Gary Garter.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors compiles the $100 million free agent contracts in baseball history.
  • David Pinto of Baseball Musings reminds us that batting order is less about stats and more about egos.
  • Patrick Dubuque at Notgraphs has a fun essay on the impulse for a fielder to throw his glove at a ball.
Sep 14

Kershaw ejected after Parra plunked in elbow


Harry How/Getty ImagesShiny unhappy people

Clayton Kershaw, who was working on a one-hit shutout with none out in the sixth inning, was ejected after hitting Gerardo Parra above the right elbow with a pitch.

Kershaw had put umpires on guard with his angry reaction to Parra’s showmanship after a home run off Hong-Chih Kuo on Tuesday, so there was really no wiggle room for him, regardless of what his intent in the moment was.

In the third inning, Kershaw had Parra down 0-2 when the outfielder hit a line-drive double to left-center just out of the reach of leaping shortstop Dee Gordon. That was the only baserunner off Kershaw until he came up again in the sixth.

The 0-1 pitch to Parra rode in and clipped him above the front elbow, and Kershaw was immediately ejected by home-plate umpire Bill Welke.  Kershaw protested vehemently, as did manager Don Mattingly, who was then ejected himself.

Kershaw left the game with five strikeouts, having reduced his ERA to 2.30, which put him back in the league lead ahead of Johnny Cueto by 0.01 and Roy Halladay by 0.06. If the Dodgers can hold their 2-0 lead over the remaining four innings, Kershaw’s record would improve to 19-5.

Sep 10

Close calls for Kemp, Kershaw in MVP, Cy Young races

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9
Roy Halladay 210 2/3 2.44 159 6.5 7.7 1.049 8.7
Cole Hamels 194 2.60 149 5.4 5.0 0.954 7.9
Ian Kennedy 202 2.90 135 4.8 4.2 1.109 7.9
Clayton Kershaw 213 2/3 2.36 156 6.0 6.6 1.002 9.7
Cliff Lee 203 2/3 2.47 157 6.0 5.9 1.031 9.0

How I might rank them today:
1) Halladay
2) Kershaw
3) Lee
4) Hamels
5) Kennedy

While you can certainly make a top-flight argument for Kershaw, it’s hard to make a top-flight one against Halladay – which I think is significant since because seems like it has been Halladay’s award to lose for a while now.

Top National League MVP candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

PA OPS OPS+ HR RBI SB TAV (BP) WAR (B-R) WAR (Fangraphs)
Ryan Braun 564 .981 163 27 95 31 .339 6.7 6.3
Prince Fielder 624 .940 153 31 108 0 .316 3.9 4.2
Matt Kemp 609 .962 166 32 107 38 .341 8.7 6.9
Albert Pujols 569 .919 153 34 87 7 .317 5.1 5.1
Troy Tulowitzki 591 .930 135 30 103 9 .306 5.8 6.6
Justin Upton 615 .933 151 30 85 20 .315 4.6 6.9
Shane Victorino 506 .893 141 15 56 18 .319 5.1 6.3
Joey Votto 636 .967 161 26 91 7 .331 6.2 6.5

How I might rank them today:
1) Kemp
2) Upton
3) Braun
4) Tulowitzki
5) Victorino

Among other subjective observations, I would argue that 1) Kemp has had the worst lineup of the contenders surrounding him and had to carry more of the burden of his team, 2) none of the other top contenders are in any kind of pressure-filled pennant race.

Kershaw and Kemp still have work to do, but there’s still a good chance that they could win the awards. They would be the 19th teammates to do so but the first to win the awards simultaneously for a losing team (if the Dodgers don’t win 81 games, or 10 of their last 18.)

Kemp and Kershaw also remain contenders for the batting and pitching triple crowns. Kershaw leads the NL in ERA and strikeouts and trails Kennedy in victories by one. Since the Cy Young Award was established, no pitcher who has led his league in wins, ERA and strikeouts has failed to win the Cy Young Award, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

2007 Jake Peavy
2006 Johan Santana
2002 Randy Johnson
1999 Pedro Martinez
1998 Roger Clemens
1997 Roger Clemens
1985 Dwight Gooden
1972 Steve Carlton
1966 Sandy Koufax
1965 Sandy Koufax
1963 Sandy Koufax

For the batting triple crown, Kemp trails Jose Reyes in batting average by .016, Pujols in homers by two and Ryan Howard in RBI by four. Can he pass them by in a 161-game season?

Sep 09

Kershaw near perfect in 2-1 victory


Marcio Jose Sanchez/APClayton Kershaw

On the 46th anniversary of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, Clayton Kershaw was nearly so.

The emphatic brilliance of Kershaw’s pitching renders any play-by-play account of tonight’s game too mundane. But I’ll give it a try.

The transcendent lefty allowed three hits in eight innings – two of them infield hits that, if fielded cleanly, would have been outs – while walking one and striking out nine in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the Giants.

San Francisco’s only run was unearned, thanks to a Dee Gordon error on the Giants’ leadoff hitter, Justin Christian. Admittedly, after Carlos Beltran drew San Francisco’s only walk and Pablo Sandoval drove in the run with the Giants’ only hit to the outfield, Gordon then saved Kershaw further damage with a highlight-reel catch of a soft looper to left field. Nevertheless, Kershaw had perfect-game quality stuff.

It looked for quite some time that it would all be for naught, that Kershaw would be the Bob Hendley in this replica of the Koufax perfect game. But the Dodgers twice scratched across runs.

In the eighth inning, with two out, Matt Kemp (2 for 4) hit a full-swing 40-foot grounder that stayed fair. Kemp stole second, thanks in part to a high throw from catcher Chris Stewart, then came around to score on a Juan Rivera single that came on Lincecum’s 122nd pitch of the game.

In the ninth inning, Rod Barajas led off with a single. Pinch-runner Eugenio Velez – or as I dared call him, “Vele on wheels” – went to second on Justin Sellers’ easy sacrifice and third on a wild pitch by Santiago Casilla.

And then, Jamey Carroll, batting for Kershaw, hit a grounder to second base. Jeff Keppinger fired home, but not in time to get Velez with the go-ahead run.

Javy Guerra retired the Giants in a perfect bottom of the ninth on 10 pitches, and the Dodgers had won the game. Los Angeles improved to 71-72 and closed to within 3 1/2 games of the Giants for second place in the National League West.

But probably more importantly to Dodger fans, Kershaw lowered his ERA to an NL-leading 2.36 while improving his own record to 18-5. Since June 15, his ERA is 1.55. Since July 7, his ERA is 1.19.

According to Jeff Fletcher of AOL Sports, Kershaw’s ERA in four head-to-head meetings with Lincecum is 0.62 (his rival is 2.03). Kershaw’s career ERA at AT&T Park is 0.45.

His WHIP in 2001 is 1.001.

Simply tremendous. For all the tribulations of 2011, it has been a privilege to watch Clayton Kershaw.