Jul 08

The end of the line for Juan Uribe … or not?

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Elian Herrera, RF
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

I didn’t come up with the thought, but quickly I realized it made sense. Presuming that Matt Kemp comes off the disabled list before Friday’s post-All-Star opener against the Padres, Scott Van Slyke will return to Albuquerque. But when Andre Ethier comes off the disabled list, it might mean the end of Juan Uribe’s Dodger career.

Since a second-inning double June 20 at Oakland, Uribe is in the midst of an 0-for-27 slump, with three walks and nine strikeouts. That happens. The problem is that when he hasn’t been slumping … well, Uribe can hardly say he’s ever not been slumping as a Dodger.

If Uribe gets an at-bat today and makes an out, that will leave him with exactly 80 hits in 400 at-bats as a Dodger – a pristine .200 batting average. He has 25 walks and has been hit by more pitches (eight) than he has hit home runs (five). His OPS as a Dodger is .546.

That Uribe, who is still owed $8 million on his contract after this season ends, is still the Dodgers’ best defender at third base has been the lone remaining argument in his favor. However, that saving grace has been weakened by two emerging factors.  One is that Jerry Hairston Jr. has played capable defense at third while swinging a more reliable bat, and the other is that the injury to Dee Gordon has meant that Luis Cruz needs a spot on the Dodger roster.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to start giving Uribe time at shortstop – he played 21 2/3 innings there in 2011 after 103 games for the Giants at short in 2010 – Cruz is staying. That leaves a battle for the final roster spot between Uribe, Elian Herrera and Adam Kennedy.

The choice might seem obvious, but you can’t rule out the possibility of Herrera, who has minor-league options, going back to the Isotopes. He’s been 100 times more fun to watch than Uribe and his versatility is an asset, but once Kemp and Ethier are back in their starting roles, Mark Ellis is re-entrenched at second base and Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Juan Rivera are holding down left field, there’s going to be less call for Herrera to roam around the diamond. That’s not to say that he’s without a purpose, but with his own slump to a .326 on-base percentage and .335 slugging, the difference between him, Uribe and Kennedy (.315 OBP, .309 slugging) isn’t overwhelming.

Who will bat leadoff for the Dodgers when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier return?

Dee Gordon is injured, and Tony Gwynn Jr. won’t start often. That leaves Luis Cruz, Bobby Abreu, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis.

Assuming Dodger manager Don Mattingly still can’t stomach the idea of his catcher leading off a game, I would say Abreu, Hairston and Mark Ellis all have a case. Something tells me, though, that we might see Cruz there as much as anyone.

By optioning Herrera, the Dodgers can put off making a final decision on Uribe or Kennedy, neither of whom can be sent down. The question is whether those decisions need any more putting off. Do the Dodgers see any hope left in Uribe? Before you answer, note that Andruw Jones has an .820 OPS in more than 1,000 plate appearances since the Dodgers got rid of him.

My instinct is to cut Uribe, but I wouldn’t call it an automatic decision. The defense is there, and once Ethier and Kemp are back, you don’t lose much by sending Herrera down and keeping Uribe as a defensive specialist who bats eighth, nor by just getting rid of Kennedy, who doesn’t give you defense or a bat (.617 OPS against right-handed pitching).

The best news is that the Dodgers might finally be healthy enough that they can even make the decision.

* * *

Jul 05

Ever say never? Never again, ever

Never let anyone tell you that Scott Van Slyke and Elian Herrera can’t homer in the same game.

Never let anyone tell you that Nathan Eovaldi can’t leave a six-inning start with a lead.

Never let anyone – particularly Jerry Hairston Jr. – tell you Jerry Hairston Jr. can’t be comfortable at third base.

And never let anyone tell you the Giants are a lock with a 5-1 seventh-inning lead over the Nationals and Matt Cain pitching.

The Dodgers have won four of five games since their seven-game losing streak ended, thanks to scoring four of five runs tonight against Arizona. They lead San Francisco by 1 1/2 games in the National League West and the Diamondbacks by seven.

Never-to-play-again Mark Ellis doubled, singled and walked, while Luis Cruz singled twice, providing the offensive support alongside the Penn-and-Teller home-run hitters, Van Slyke and Herrera. Each pitching for the third night in a row, Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen closed it out again.

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 16

So far, Elian Herrera is making Dodger history

Having a great first season in the majors while in your mid-20s is a rare thing. Sure, there are late bloomers – Paul Lo Duca and Maury Wills immediately come to mind –  but most of those late bloomers need a cup of coffee or four before they make a noteworthy impact.

In fact, in the 55 seasons of the Los Angeles Dodgers, only 19 players have notched at least 100 plate appearances in their first season after turning 24. And of those 19 players, so far, Elian Herrera (who added two doubles and three RBI Friday to his magical 2012) has a higher on-base percentage and adjusted OPS than any of them.

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age G HR SB CS OBP SLG OPS
1 Elian Herrera 118 115 2012 27 29 0 3 1 .395 .388 .782
2 Andre Ethier 113 441 2006 24 126 11 5 5 .365 .477 .842
3 Dick Gray 106 221 1958 26 58 9 1 1 .327 .472 .799
4 Norm Larker 102 291 1958 27 99 4 1 1 .352 .427 .779
5 Ted Sizemore 94 650 1969 24 159 4 5 5 .328 .342 .670
6 Mickey Hatcher 90 102 1979 24 33 1 1 3 .327 .366 .692
7 Wes Parker 87 240 1964 24 124 3 5 4 .303 .341 .644
8 Oscar Robles 86 399 2005 29 110 5 0 8 .332 .368 .700
9 Jack Fimple 83 167 1983 24 54 2 1 0 .300 .358 .658
10 Lee Lacy 80 266 1972 24 60 0 5 3 .312 .313 .625
11 Chad Fonville 75 338 1995 24 88 0 20 5 .328 .302 .630
12 Jason Repko 74 301 2005 24 129 8 5 0 .281 .384 .665
13 Eric Young 69 144 1992 25 49 1 6 1 .300 .288 .588
14 Henry Rodriguez 66 156 1992 24 53 3 0 0 .258 .329 .587
15 Justin Sellers 63 139 2011 25 36 1 1 0 .283 .301 .583
16 Tracy Woodson 62 148 1987 24 53 1 1 1 .284 .324 .607
17 Larry Burright 60 276 1962 24 115 4 4 3 .264 .317 .581
18 Mike Ramsey 57 138 1987 26 48 0 2 4 .287 .296 .583
19 Maury Wills 55 258 1959 26 83 0 7 3 .298 .298 .596
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used. Generated 6/16/2012.

It’s not as if he can claim a better first season than Andre Ethier had in 2006, for example, but it’s still pretty amazing. In fact, even if you eliminate the age component, Herrera still has the fifth-best season in adjusted OPS for a Dodger in his first season, and second-best OBP.

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age G HR SB CS OBP SLG OPS
1 Bill Sudakis 165 102 1968 22 24 3 1 0 .382 .471 .854
2 Willy Aybar 140 105 2005 22 26 1 3 1 .448 .453 .901
3 James Loney 125 111 2006 22 48 4 1 0 .342 .559 .901
4 Steve Yeager 124 124 1972 23 35 4 0 0 .374 .406 .780
5 Elian Herrera 118 115 2012 27 29 0 3 1 .395 .388 .782
6 Andre Ethier 113 441 2006 24 126 11 5 5 .365 .477 .842
7 Jim Lefebvre 106 631 1965 23 157 12 3 5 .337 .369 .706
8 Dick Gray 106 221 1958 26 58 9 1 1 .327 .472 .799
9 Jerry Sands 102 227 2011 23 61 4 3 3 .338 .389 .727
10 Norm Larker 102 291 1958 27 99 4 1 1 .352 .427 .779
11 Russell Martin 101 468 2006 23 121 10 10 5 .355 .436 .792
12 Ted Sizemore 94 650 1969 24 159 4 5 5 .328 .342 .670
13 Blake DeWitt 93 421 2008 22 117 9 3 0 .344 .383 .728
14 Dee Gordon 92 233 2011 23 56 0 24 7 .325 .362 .686
15 Todd Hollandsworth 91 115 1995 22 41 5 2 1 .304 .398 .702
16 Steve Sax 91 127 1981 21 31 2 5 7 .317 .345 .662
17 Mickey Hatcher 90 102 1979 24 33 1 1 3 .327 .366 .692
18 Wes Parker 87 240 1964 24 124 3 5 4 .303 .341 .644
19 Oscar Robles 86 399 2005 29 110 5 0 8 .332 .368 .700
20 Bill Russell 86 238 1969 20 98 5 4 1 .301 .344 .645
21 Matt Kemp 85 166 2006 21 52 7 6 0 .289 .448 .737
22 Jack Fimple 83 167 1983 24 54 2 1 0 .300 .358 .658
23 Tony Abreu 82 178 2007 22 59 2 0 0 .309 .404 .713
24 Mike Scioscia 81 152 1980 21 54 1 1 0 .313 .328 .641
25 Henry Cruz 81 101 1975 23 53 0 1 1 .317 .319 .636
Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age G HR SB CS OBP SLG OPS
26 Nate Oliver 81 178 1963 22 65 1 3 4 .298 .307 .605
27 Mariano Duncan 80 620 1985 22 142 6 38 8 .293 .340 .633
28 Lee Lacy 80 266 1972 24 60 0 5 3 .312 .313 .625
29 Andy LaRoche 78 115 2007 23 35 1 2 1 .365 .312 .677
30 Chad Fonville 75 338 1995 24 88 0 20 5 .328 .302 .630
31 Jason Repko 74 301 2005 24 129 8 5 0 .281 .384 .665
32 Franklin Stubbs 74 245 1984 23 87 8 2 2 .273 .341 .614
33 Adrian Beltre 73 214 1998 19 77 7 3 1 .278 .369 .648
34 Billy Ashley 69 100 1992 21 29 2 0 0 .260 .337 .597
35 Eric Young 69 144 1992 25 49 1 6 1 .300 .288 .588
36 Henry Rodriguez 66 156 1992 24 53 3 0 0 .258 .329 .587
37 Jeff Hamilton 66 151 1986 22 71 5 0 0 .232 .361 .592
38 Justin Sellers 63 139 2011 25 36 1 1 0 .283 .301 .583
39 Tracy Woodson 62 148 1987 24 53 1 1 1 .284 .324 .607
40 Jim Fairey 61 166 1968 23 99 1 1 1 .241 .276 .517
41 Larry Burright 60 276 1962 24 115 4 4 3 .264 .317 .581
42 Mike Ramsey 57 138 1987 26 48 0 2 4 .287 .296 .583
43 Maury Wills 55 258 1959 26 83 0 7 3 .298 .298 .596
44 Dave Anderson 41 131 1983 22 61 1 6 3 .244 .261 .505
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used. Generated 6/16/2012.

Using Wins Above Replacement, a cumulative stat as measured by Baseball-Reference.com, Herrera is already the Dodgers’ 20th-best first-year major-leaguer … with room to climb.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA Year Age G HR SB CS OBP SLG OPS
1 Jim Lefebvre 4.2 631 1965 23 157 12 3 5 .337 .369 .706
2 Ted Sizemore 4.0 650 1969 24 159 4 5 5 .328 .342 .670
3 Andre Ethier 2.2 441 2006 24 126 11 5 5 .365 .477 .842
4 Russell Martin 1.9 468 2006 23 121 10 10 5 .355 .436 .792
5 Bill Russell 1.7 238 1969 20 98 5 4 1 .301 .344 .645
6 Mariano Duncan 1.5 620 1985 22 142 6 38 8 .293 .340 .633
7 Blake DeWitt 1.4 421 2008 22 117 9 3 0 .344 .383 .728
8 Lee Lacy 1.4 266 1972 24 60 0 5 3 .312 .313 .625
9 Bill Sudakis 1.2 102 1968 22 24 3 1 0 .382 .471 .854
10 Steve Yeager 1.0 124 1972 23 35 4 0 0 .374 .406 .780
11 Dick Gray 1.0 221 1958 26 58 9 1 1 .327 .472 .799
12 Tony Abreu 0.9 178 2007 22 59 2 0 0 .309 .404 .713
13 James Loney 0.9 111 2006 22 48 4 1 0 .342 .559 .901
14 Willy Aybar 0.9 105 2005 22 26 1 3 1 .448 .453 .901
15 Chad Fonville 0.9 338 1995 24 88 0 20 5 .328 .302 .630
16 Norm Larker 0.9 291 1958 27 99 4 1 1 .352 .427 .779
17 Justin Sellers 0.8 139 2011 25 36 1 1 0 .283 .301 .583
18 Jack Fimple 0.7 167 1983 24 54 2 1 0 .300 .358 .658
19 Wes Parker 0.7 240 1964 24 124 3 5 4 .303 .341 .644
20 Elian Herrera 0.6 115 2012 27 29 0 3 1 .395 .388 .782
21 Dee Gordon 0.6 233 2011 23 56 0 24 7 .325 .362 .686
22 Steve Sax 0.6 127 1981 21 31 2 5 7 .317 .345 .662
23 Mike Scioscia 0.4 152 1980 21 54 1 1 0 .313 .328 .641
24 Mickey Hatcher 0.4 102 1979 24 33 1 1 3 .327 .366 .692
25 Oscar Robles 0.3 399 2005 29 110 5 0 8 .332 .368 .700
Rk Player WAR/pos PA Year Age G HR SB CS OBP SLG OPS
26 Jerry Sands 0.1 227 2011 23 61 4 3 3 .338 .389 .727
27 Andy LaRoche 0.1 115 2007 23 35 1 2 1 .365 .312 .677
28 Adrian Beltre 0.1 214 1998 19 77 7 3 1 .278 .369 .648
29 Nate Oliver 0.0 178 1963 22 65 1 3 4 .298 .307 .605
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used. Generated 6/16/2012.

This won’t guarantee future stardom – several of these players are balloons that inflated quickly and then popped. It’s not like Dick Gray carved out a legendary career But it is a measure of just how valuable Herrera has been to this point. I can’t think of a bigger surprise for the Dodgers in 2012.

Jun 12

The guy you hadn’t heard of before May isn’t playing, and you’re disappointed

Angels at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
A.J. Ellis, C
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Adam Kennedy, 2B
Juan Uribe, 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Aaron Harang, P

Switch-hitting trade-of-all-jackers Elian Herrera will see a streak of 10 consecutive starts end tonight, a streak in which he had a .366 on-base percentage. That actually constitutes a slump for the unexpected spark plug, who has a .394 on-base percentage through 105 plate appearances in his first taste of the big leagues.

Herrera has odd splits in his short career so far. Against righties, he has a .406 OBP and .302 slugging, while against lefties he goes .351/.457, with five doubles in 35 at-bats. In any case, a lineup that begins with Herrera, A.J. Ellis and Andre Ethier against Angels righty Jerome Williams doesn’t sound half-bad.

Instead, Herrera, who has started at center field, second base and third base, is riding the Dodger bench in favor of Tony Gwynn Jr., Adam Kennedy and Juan Uribe. Gwynn is a left-handed swinger who plays great defense, while Uribe is due for a start, having gone exactly one month since his last one.

Then there’s Kennedy, who will be making his fifth start of June. The difference between Kennedy and Herrera is probably less than people believe, but still, Kennedy’s name on the lineup card seems untimely. However, for the Adam Kennedy Marching & Chowder Society, there’s this: He went 4 for 9 last week.

One stat in which the two are closely matched is pitches per plate appearance. Herrera has seen 4.1 P/PA, Kennedy 4.0.

Jun 05

Billingsley, Herrera rise to occasion as Dodgers stun Phillies again

Philadelphia won’t soon forget Elian Herrera.

For the second straight evening, the Dodgers’ utility star drove in the winning run, delivering a two-out, two-strike, two-run double in the eighth inning to give Los Angeles what it needed for a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia and winless Cliff Lee.

Lee had allowed three baserunners and struck out 12 before the eighth inning — and the Dodgers did him the additional favor of having two baserunners thrown out at third base to begin that frame. (Following a leadoff double, Matt Treanor couldn’t make it to third on a Tony Gwynn Jr. bunt, and then Gwynn himself was thrown out trying to take two bases on a single by pinch-hitter Bobby Abreu.)

But after Dee Gordon singled, Herrera doubled to deep left-center, driving in the tying and go-ahead runs. Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen then closed the door on Philadelphia.

Herrera has twin .377 on-base and slugging percentages for the Dodgers now. Lee fell to 0-3 despite a 2.92 ERA on the year.

The Dodgers stayed close thanks to Chad Billingsley, who threw seven innings of one-run ball to set himself up for another blistering critique from the fans the next time he fails to impress. In the first inning, Billingsley allowed a leadoff double, an RBI single and a walk before escaping on a to-the-wall fly to right. After that, however, the righthander permitted only four baserunners over his final six innings, despite striking out only three of 28 batters he faced in the game.

May 19

Gordon might head to minors soon

From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com, after a postgame chat with Dodger manager Don Mattingly:

… Mattingly seemed to concede for the first time after the game that shortstop Dee Gordon might not be long for the leadoff spot. Gordon continued to struggle there, going 0-for-5 without hitting a ball out of the infield, and he now is 2-for-31 over the past seven games.

“Seeing it from where I was at tonight, it wasn’t very good,” said Mattingly, who got to watch most of it from the center-field television camera on the television in his office because he was ejected by plate umpire Tom Hallion in the top of the third inning. “The game seems to be moving awfully fast for him right now. We are going to continue to make decisions. But in the same breath, this kid is going to be a good player. He is going through something right now that is going to make him a better player later on.

“Things aren’t easy in this game, and there are times when you’re going to go through rough stuff. He is going through some rough stuff right now.”

Reading between the lines of Mattingly’s comments, it sounds like something will happen with Gordon soon, possibly before Saturday night’s game. Because Gordon is such a key part of the Dodgers’ future, it isn’t likely anyone is going to let him sit around on the bench. A stint in Triple-A would seem more logical because it would mean he would be getting regular at-bats and have a chance to work out the kinks, something he couldn’t do as a reserve player in the major leagues. …

Gordon’s batting average fell to exactly .200 Friday, with a .239 on-base percentage.

One delaying factor could be the health of Mark Ellis, who had to leave Friday’s 6-5 Dodger victory over St. Louis shortly after he was hit with a hard takeout slide. X-rays were negative, but if Ellis has to miss any games, that would remove another starter from the Dodger infield. That said, the Dodgers could still bring up someone like Ivan De Jesus to be a reserve to back up the infield of, yes, Adam Kennedy, Justin Sellers and Elian Herrera.

Herrera, who drew the eight-pitch walk to start the bottom of the ninth and then went from first to third on Adam Kennedy’s fourth hit, could see more playing time thanks to that at-bat.

May 14

The A.J. Ellis All-Star campaign — taking it national

Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Kershaw CXXIV: Kershawpolitan
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Andre Ethier, RF
A.J. Ellis, C
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Clayton Kershaw, P

In a guest post for ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot blog, I press the case (begun here) for A.J. Ellis to be top of mind when it comes to this year’s All-Star voting. In fact, it’s not hard to argue that as we begin play tonight, Ellis has been the No. 1 catcher in baseball this year.

If you rumble in certain corners of the country or the Internet, you may have heard tales of A.J. Ellis Facts, which chronicles the exploits of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first-time starting catcher as if he were an Avenger of some incredible ilk.

In reality, Ellis might not be a superhero, but he might just be the best pick for the National League All-Star team at catcher in 2012.

Ellis, who had only 141 career major-league plate appearances before turning 30 last year, has adapted a long-developed mastery of the strike zone in the minors into an earnest dose of offensive weaponhood in the big leagues, to the point where he is now third in the NL in on-base percentage (.462) behind David Wright and Joey Votto.

Additionally, despite managing only six home runs in more than 800 Pacific Coast League at-bats, Ellis has added enough pop to his game (five doubles, a triple and three home runs this season) that he is slugging .512 and has an OPS of .974, the latter figure tops among all major-league catchers. This despite playing two-thirds of his games this year in the relatively stifling hitting environments of Dodger Stadium and San Diego’s Petco Park. …

Read the entire post here.

Update: The Dodgers have placed Juan Uribe on the disabled list to deal with his lingering left wrist injury, and have purchased the contract of utilityman Elian Herrera from Triple-A Albuquerque.The 27-year-old has a .381 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage for the Isotopes this year, playing second base, third, shortstop and center field.

Los Angeles designated Trent Oeltjen for assignment to make room for Herrera on the 40-man roster.