Oct 14

Remembering 2011: Ramon Troncoso


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireRamon Troncoso (18)

The setup: Superb for the Dodgers in 2009, Troncoso hadn’t really been the same since, coincidentally or not, a stretch of 2010 in which he pitched in 16 of the Dodgers’ first 24 games, never with more than one day of rest (not counting how many times he warmed up but didn’t enter a game). Troncoso had a 6.08 ERA from May 1 through Independence Day that year,  at which point he found himself back in a place he probably thought he had left behind for good, Albuquerque. He shuttled back and forth for the remainder of the 2010 season. Though a better final two weeks in Los Angeles (9 1/3 innings, 12 baserunners, 1.93 ERA, six strikeouts) offered a bit of encouragement that the rocky road of relief might run the right way once more, Troncoso still wasn’t a sure thing. Given that he still could be optioned to the minors in 2011, he had to prove himself again in Spring Training.

The closeup: After turning 28 in February, Troncoso turned back to Albuquerque in March, failing to make the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster. The team’s reliever roulette brought Troncoso back in mid-April (thanks to a Hong-Chih Kuo trip to the disabled list), but in two games, he allowed six runs on 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings. And so back to the Isotopes he went.

Given that memory, and the 6.75 ERA he ended the 2011 season with, you might have the impression that Troncoso never contributed, but that’s not really the case. In two later stints with the Dodgers (May-June and September), Troncoso had an ERA of 2.75 with 14 strikeouts against 25 baserunners in 19 2/3 innings, stranding five of eight inherited runners.  That’s not outstanding, but it was occasionally useful. On June 10 in Colorado, for example, Troncoso stranded two inherited runners while throwing 2 1/3 shutout innings in a game that the Dodgers nearly came back from a six-run deficit to win.

OK, now I’m going to tell you I cheated a bit in that last paragraph. On Closing Day, Troncoso gave up all five runs in the ninth inning of what nearly became the Dodgers’ second mega-collapse in as many days, so that May-September performance wasn’t quite so lofty. Still, to get a grasp of Troncoso’s season, factor in that he allowed no earned runs in 13 of 18 appearances. He allowed two earned runs in a game once, three earned runs twice, four earned runs once and five earned runs once.

Coming attractions: Next spring, Troncoso will find himself in much the same position he was before — trying to prove he has the reliability and durability to hold down a major-league job. Despite the ascension of pitchers like Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom, there’s still room for someone capable of providing occasional long relief like Troncoso — if he’s able. Perhaps Cory Wade can be his inspiration.

Oct 14

Remembering 2011: Matt Kemp


Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireMatt Kemp (17)

A year ago today, on the occasion of John Wooden’s 100th birthday, I published a long piece about Matt Kemp, the Pyramid of Success and the deceptive complexity of “effort.”

… If Kemp were to say to himself – and I personally don’t think for a moment he is saying this to himself – “I have money, I have love, I have a good job and I have my health, and I have this all just by being who I already am, and even though I’m no longer the best, that’s all I need,” no one would think for a moment that this was a legitimate perspective, even though outside the world of competitive sports, it most certainly is. In sports, there’s no greater sin than unrealized potential. And yet in life, in real life, letting some of your potential go at a certain point can actually be a gift to yourself and your loved ones. …

… In the coming year, we’ll see what Kemp is made of at age 26. We’ll see how much he steps up his mental game. It’s silly to assume that he won’t develop at all, but if he doesn’t develop as much as people like me hope, there are all kinds of reasons why. They’re not excuses. They’re reasons.

None of us know how Kemp will respond to the challenge. I’m not sure Kemp even knows. Plus, his performance in 2011 won’t necessarily be an accurate reflection of his work ethic. He could coast, and improve based on just natural development. He could bust his butt, and slide farther back. People will cheer if he does well, boo if he does poorly, draw conclusions based on whatever they see fit. …

Kemp had a 2011 season that would seem to have, to use an appropriate metaphor, covered all the bases. If the man behind the curtain were to pull it aside and reveal that the Bison did not attack 2011 with a singularity and clarity of purpose and determination, simultaneous to the continued blossoming of his natural gifts, it would be a remarkable surprise.

Paging through just a portion of his season highlights … you think you have perspective on his season, and you realize just how many distinct, superlative moments it comprised.

From Opening Day, when he reached base four times, to the end of the season, when he hit his 39th home run, drove in his 126th run, scored his 115th run, recorded his 195th hit, finished his season with a .399 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage and completed his case for the National League Most Valuable Player Award (as well as Baseball America’s Major League Player of the Year Award, officially) … do I need to even need to finish this sentence? Kemp was a bullet train, a cross-country express that never slowed, that only wavered under the vibrations of his own self-generated force.

Clarity of purpose.

A year ago today, I injected myself arrogantly into the discussion of Matt Kemp, the Pyramid of Success and the deceptive complexity of “effort,” with the implication that, for all our tangible differences, Kemp and I might in some way be kindred spirits. The similarities seem much more esoteric now. Kemp broke through the barriers like Chuck Yeager flying Glamorous Glennis through the speed of sound – the date was October 14, John Wooden’s 37th birthday and the last he celebrated before coming west to UCLA –  while I find myself as I was a year ago, as I have been so many years, unsure of both what direction and what velocity I should choose, yearning to feel satisfied and yet nagged that I can’t be.

Matt Kemp pierced through all that. He mastered the art and science of baseball and life this year, to my great delight, and I’m still feeling the sonic boom.

Oct 12

Remembering 2011: Hector Gimenez


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesHector Gimenez (16)

The setup: Though his major-league career at the time comprised of going 0 for 2 with the 2006 Houston Astros, Gimenez’s .916 OPS in 2010 with Double-A Altoona and ability to play catcher attracted the Dodgers, who made Gimenez a footnote acquisition in November. He entered Spring Training with an outside chance to move ahead of Dioner Navarro and A.J. Ellis for the backup catcher role if those two faltered.

The closeup: Remember that feel-good spring? A .565 slugging percentage in 46 at-bats did succeed in propelling Gimenez onto the Opening Day roster, though not so much as a catcher (the Dodgers also kept Ellis) as a semi-utility player with Navarro, Casey Blake and Jay Gibbons on the disabled list. Gimenez reached base on an error as a pinch-hitter in his Dodger debut in Game 2 — a key play in a three-run Dodger rally that gave them a 4-3 victory over the Giants — then got his first major league hit in his only start of the year the following day. After two subsequent pinch-hitting at-bats that lowered him to 1 for 7 on the year, Gimenez went to the disabled list with a knee injury that certain cynics thought was fortuitously timed for the Dodgers to make a needed callup of John Ely. But Gimenez did in fact have surgery at the end of April.

Once healthy, Gimenez was outrighted in June to Double-A Chattanooga, where he had an .866 OPS in 266 plate appearances. Despite having some issues with offense off the bench, the Dodgers showed no inclination to bring him back to Los Angeles.

Coming attractions: Gimenez is a free agent and will look toward getting another shot at the majors elsewhere.

Oct 11

Remembering 2011: Juan Rivera


Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesJuan Rivera (15)

The setup: Rivera was sent to Toronto by the Angels on January 21 in their infamous Vernon Wells deal, after OPSing .721 in 2010 with 15 homers in 124 games. As a Blue Jay, Rivera turned in a career-low .666 OPS (79 OPS+) in 70 games. On July 4, a day after he turned 33, Toronto designated Rivera for assignment. Eight days later, the Dodgers acquired Rivera in exchange for future considerations, cutting bait on Marcus Thames in the process. In one of my less prescient analyses of the year, I was almost completely dismissive of the pickup.

The closeup: In 2006, Marlon Anderson. In 2009, Ronnie Belliard. In 2010, Rod Barajas. In 2011, Rivera. Once again, Ned Colletti found one of his greatest successes of the year in giving up next to nothing to acquire a potent bat for the final two-plus months of the season – although Rivera wasn’t so much potent as he was a solid improvement over what preceded him. In 62 games with the Dodgers (45 starts in the outfield, 13 at first base), he had a .333 on-base percentage and .406 slugging percentage with five home runs in 246 plate appearances. Sometimes, as Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out, it helps just to stop playing terrible players.

What happened with Rivera is that, after OPSing .863 with four homers in his first 34 games as a Dodger, through August 24, he fell to .604 with one homer in his final 28 games and .527 in his final 15, including a 3-for-27 finish. You could say he was gassed, or regressed to the mean, but it took some of the rust coat off his Los Angeles detail.

Coming attractions: Rivera is a free agent, having played out the three-year, $12.75 million contract that he signed with the Angels before the 2009 season. He earned $5.25 million this year, but any chance that he could match that figure for 2012 evaporated with his late-season slump (assuming the powers that be noticed it). Furthermore, his chances of returning to the Dodgers diminished with James Loney’s late-season hot streak, which could push the first baseman back into the Dodgers’ future, Jerry Sands to left field and Rivera out of town.

However, if Rivera gives ground on salary, or if it’s decided that Loney is too expensive to tender a contract, Colletti would probably jump at the chance of having him back, just as he did (in mostly ill-fated fashion) with Anderson, Belliard and Barajas. The presence of Rivera would take some of the pressure off Sands to perform immediately, and one could certainly argue that Loney (who will get at least $6 million if the Dodgers don’t farewell him) isn’t worth millions more than Rivera for 2012. Colletti is high on Sands, but it’s hard to believe he’d be more comfortable with Sands batting behind Matt Kemp in April than Rivera. Moreover, the Dodger bench definitely has room for him at the right price.

Assuming that a signing of a super-slugging free agent by the Dodgers is mythical, Rivera might well be a Dodger next year, but the more he’s looking for in salary, the longer he might be kept on hold.

Oct 11

Remembering 2011: Scott Elbert


Scott Rovak/US PresswireScott Elbert (14)

The setup: A year ago, it wasn’t clear whether Elbert would pitch in the majors again. In 2010, he appeared in one game for the Dodgers, on May 29, faced six batters, walked three and allowed a hit and a run. Two days later, he was sent back to Albuquerque. In June, he left the Isotopes for undisclosed personal reasons and ended up not pitching in a professional game again until the Arizona Fall League in October.  “I obviously have to earn my stay (in Los Angeles),” he told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “I know where I stand. I have to fight and earn that respect back.”

As one of the final roster cuts before Opening Day, Elbert was sent to Albuquerque, where he struck out 16 in 14 1/3 innings but allowed 23 baserunners. However, with the Dodgers’ bullpen depleted, he was recalled May 11.

The closeup: Very quietly, Elbert turned over a new leaf and then some. In his season debut with the Dodgers, Elbert pitched one inning against Arizona and struck out the side. He pitched 7 2/3 innings over 11 games, striking out eight, before he gave up his first run of the season, while stranding six of eight inherited runners. A rough two-game stretch followed in which he allowed five runs, representing more than half of his 2011 total. By the time the season ended, Elbert had made 47 appearances and was unscored upon in 42 of them. He had a 2.43 ERA in 33 1/3 innings with 34 strikeouts against 42 baserunners. Problems flared slightly in September, when he walked six (compared with eight in the previous 3 1/2 months combined) and allowed five of 10 inherited runners to score (compared with seven of his previous 23). But overall, Elbert’s season was an unexpected pleasure, one of the undertold great stories hidden in the Dodgers’ strange 2011 season.

It is true that Elbert pitched better against lefties (.267 on-base percentage, .250 slugging percentage) than righties (.344/.382), facing almost equal amounts of both.

Coming attractions: For the first time, Elbert, 26, will arrive at Spring Training with a major-league job waiting for him, a chance to build upon the progress he showed this past season.

Oct 10

Remembering 2011: Xavier Paul


Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesXavier Paul (13)

The setup: In 2010, Paul missed an opportunity to help fill the Manny Ramirez void, managing only a .591 OPS in 133 major-league plate appearances (in contrast to his .963 OPS in Albuquerque). Out of options in 2011, Paul entered Spring Training with a chance to take playing time in left field away from Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames, but not a few of us thought he would end up being traded to Pittsburgh.

The closeup: We were way off. Paul wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh. He was designated for assignment and claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh. Despite going 3 for 7 during the season’s first week, Paul earned only four more plate appearances over the next week, each off the bench, and struck out all four times. On April 18, the Dodgers DFAed Paul to make room for the first coming of Jerry Sands.

With the Pirates, Paul went 2 for 4 in each of his first three starts and 6 for 7 in two games against the Mets to start the month of June, but in between those highlights, he was 3 for 27 with two walks and no extra-base hits. He ended up with a .293 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage for the Pirates in 251 plate appearances, to go with 16 stolen bases — not Hall of Fame stuff, but not too far off the offense Gwynn (.308/.353/22 in 340 plate appearances) provided the Dodgers, and at least more than Gibbons or Thames delivered.

Coming attractions: Paul, who made 41 starts in 2011 (with a .686 OPS, in contrast to a .253 OPS in 45 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter), will compete for a more regular role with the Pirates next season, or at least to remain on a major-league roster for an entire season for the first time.

Oct 10

Remembering 2011: Ted Lilly


Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireTed Lilly (12)

The setup: After coming to the Dodgers, the team that drafted him in 1996, at the 2010 trade deadline and posting a 3.52 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, Lilly was a free agent but one with an interest in staying in Los Angeles. In mid-October, not waiting to sound out offers from other teams, Lilly signed with the Dodgers for three years and $33 million. Though his ERA was above average during his half-season in Los Angeles, there was concern about his age (35 in January) and his home-run rate (one every six innings, roughly).

The closeup: Lilly didn’t eat innings, averaging 5.8 per start, nor was he reliable even at that length for most of the year. He was one of several Dodger veterans who disappointed in the first four months of the season, seemingly taking two steps back after every step forward. Beginning the year by allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 10-0 loss to the Giants, Lilly had three quality starts in his first nine. After managing to lower his ERA to 3.98 on June 11 with a nice run of five starts, he was hit hard over his next three, allowing 17 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings. (Was it the left-elbow tenderness?) Only once in 11 starts from June 6 from August 3, did he last more than six innings, and not once did he complete the seventh. When August began, his ERA was 5.02.

And then, there were the homers and steals. While Matt Kemp pursued a 30-30 or even a 40-40 season, Lilly was in effect doing the same thing from the dark side. For the year, opponents stole 35 bases in 37 attempts against the lefty, all but powerless to slow them. Meanwhile, after allowing only two home runs in April, Lilly gave up nine in May, five in June, seven in July and five in August – a total of 28 entering the season’s final month.

But following a solo homer to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez on August 26, Lilly kept the ball in the park for his final 42 2/3 innings of the season, delivering a 1.69 ERA over that period with 39 strikeouts. (Was it the acupuncture?) When he finished his seventh shutout inning at Arizona in his final appearance of the season, Lilly lowered his ERA to 3.97, its best level since he took the mound for the first time in April. Still, his park-adjusted ERA+ of 94 was Lilly’s worst since 2005. Lilly now has a 3.84 ERA in 269 1/3 innings over 45 starts with the Dodgers.

Coming attractions: In he second year of his contract, a 36-year-old Lilly will try to slow his decline in a Dodger rotation that, behind Clayton Kershaw, is also looking for a bounceback year from Chad Billingsley, a return or replacement for Hiroki Kuroda and adequacy from Nathan Eovaldi or his like.

Oct 09

Remembering 2011: Juan Uribe


Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJuan Uribe (11)

The setup: Glowing from his 26-homer season (including two in the playoffs) in 2010 like a rod from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, the 31-year-old Uribe fused with the Dodgers on a three-year, $21 million deal to play second base and a little third as well. After failing to post an OPS over .700 in his final three seasons in Chicago, Uribe had turned in seasons of .824 and .749 from 2009-10 with San Francisco, convincing Ned Colletti to let him light up the Dodgers.

The closeup: Uribe started his Dodger career 7 for 49 with no home runs – perhaps hampered by getting hit by a Tim Lincecum pitch Opening Day – but seemed to get on track in mid-April. On April 29, he hit his third homer in five games to raise his season OPS to .742. But that was his peak. May turned rough at the plate, and then all of a sudden, he was sidelined by a strained hip flexor. Uribe came back to active duty on June 6, but at no time did his season really show any signs of turning around. An 0-for-5 against the Angels on June 24 dropped his OPS below .600 for good. On July 30, he was placed on the disabled list again, seven days after he last played in a game, and he did not return, topping things off with surgery for a sports hernia September 7. He finished the year with a .264 on-base percentage and astonishingly low .293 slugging percentage, making 53 starts at third base (where his defense was a bright spot), 17 at second base and three at shortstop. He went homerless in his final 85 at-bats, and really did nothing more memorable than end up the subject of the above photo and accompanying website.

Coming attractions: Whenever I think of new Dodgers who disappoint with only four home runs, I think of Dusty Baker, who hit four in his first season in Los Angeles, then came back the next year with 30. While I’m not exactly holding my breath for Uribe to do the same, nor am I expecting him to again turn in a slugging percentage that was his lowest in nine years by more than 100 points. In short, it’s hard to imagine Uribe’s production going anywhere but up (like his salary) in the second year of his contract. Here’s hoping for adequacy!

Oct 08

Remembering 2011: Vicente Padilla


Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesVicente Padilla (10)

The setup: Following a 2010 in which he was a controversial choice as Opening Day starter (it seems so long ago now), only to pitch 95 innings all year, the Dodgers re-signed Padilla for 2011 in December. The reasons: He required only a $2 million base salary, he had a summertime hot streak (after recovering from right forearm trouble) in which he had a 1.32 ERA in eight starts and 54 2/3 innings with 48 strikeouts, and he and the Dodgers came to an understanding that he might end up as the team’s closer if Jonathan Broxton continued to struggle.

The closeup: Arm trouble returned for Padilla before March even arrived, with the righty undergoing surgery to free up a nerve in his forearm. By the time he was ready to make his 2011 debut on April 23, concern had begun to mount for Broxton, who, despite being 1-0 with five saves in five opportunities, had allowed 14 baserunners in 8 2/3 innings. Though Padilla gave up a run on two hits and a walk in his second appearance of the season, it only took a perfect inning his next time out, saving a 10-inning victory in Florida on April 27, to ignite his candidacy for closer. On May 4, the day Broxton was shut down to have an MRI, Padilla pitched a shutout ninth inning (in a 5-1 loss to the Cubs), and it seemed the Dodgers’ backup plan was in motion.

However, after Padilla pitched three times in the ensuing week, allowing three runs in 2 2/3 innings, he was done. Placed on the disabled list May 19, he never came off. In June, he had season-ending neck surgery. He finished his season with 8 2/3 innings pitched in nine games and a 4.15 ERA.

Coming attractions: Padilla, who turned 34 on September 27, is a free agent again. News on his recovery has been hard to come by, but if he has any inclination toward a comeback, there should still be interest in offering him at least a minor-league contract from more than a few teams, including the Dodgers. If someone like Mike MacDougal was worth a shot last winter, Padilla with a clean(er) bill of health might be as well.

Oct 08

Remembering 2011: Rafael Furcal


US PresswireRafael Furcal

The setup: Furcal entered his sixth season in Los Angeles with no one quite sure what he’d produce. In 2008, he had a .439 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage but only managed to play in 36 games. In 2009, you could flip that: he appeared in 150 contests, but his numbers declined to .335 and .375. The 2010 season split the difference: 97 games, .366/.460, including a hot streak that propelled him into the All-Star Game. With free agency likely beckoning and Dee Gordon waiting in the wings, the only thing that seemed relatively certain was that 2011 would be Furcal’s last in Los Angeles.

The closeup: As inevitable as injuries might seem with Furcal, his first of 2011 just didn’t seem fair. In his seventh game of the year, Furcal broke his thumb sliding into third base. He didn’t return to action until May 22, and may have rushed himself at that. Through May 27, he had come to the plate 50 times and made 42 outs. He then reached base seven times in his next 14 plate appearances, only for a new injury to sideline him for another month. Again, he struggled upon his return. On July 22, in the midst of a season that was paying him $12 million, Furcal went 0 for 4 in a loss to Washington that dropped the Dodgers’ record to 43-56 and lowered his season on-base percentage to .220 and slugging percentage to .200. The notion that Furcal would be boosting his team into the National League Championship Series could hardly have been more absurd.

Over the next six games, Furcal went 8 for 22 with three walks and three doubles, enough to convince the St. Louis Cardinals it was worth taking a chance on him. On July 31, they traded minor-league outfielder Alex Castellanos (who finished his Double-A season with a .958 OPS, 1.009 in Chattanooga) for Furcal, who could look back on his Dodger career, injuries and all, as the team’s best all-around shortstop since at least Maury Wills.

All-time Dodger shortstop OPS+ leaders (via Baseball-Reference.com)


Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age OBP SLG OPS
1 Lonny Frey 108 1901 1933 1936 22-25 .361 .403 .764
2 Glenn Wright 103 1570 1929 1933 28-32 .324 .463 .787
3 Bill Dahlen 102 1712 1901 1911 31-41 .337 .350 .687
4 Rafael Furcal 100 2802 2006 2011 28-33 .351 .406 .757
5 Pee Wee Reese 98 9470 1940 1958 21-39 .366 .377 .743
6 Jose Offerman 87 2297 1990 1995 21-26 .344 .325 .669
7 Maury Wills 87 6744 1959 1972 26-39 .331 .332 .663
8 Greg Gagne 83 1040 1996 1997 34-35 .315 .359 .673
9 Bill Russell 82 8020 1969 1986 20-37 .310 .338 .648
10 Phil Lewis 80 1940 1905 1908 21-24 .281 .282 .563

But there was little time for Furcal to reflect on the past.

Furcal reached base twice in his first start with St. Louis, and homered and drove in four runs in his third. The Cardinals fell out of the NL Central race, but made a surprising run to the playoffs by stealing the wild card from Atlanta. It wasn’t all good from Furcal – though he hit seven homers in 50 games, his on-base percentage was only .316, and his ninth-inning error September 22 opened the door for a six-run ninth inning by the Mets that nearly crushed the Cards’ playoff hopes. Furcal also wasn’t healthy enough to play in the team’s final two games of the regular season. But he played every inning of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia, culminating in Friday’s Game 5, in which his leadoff triple against potential Cy Young-winner Roy Halladay led to the game’s only run and his sparkling defensive play in the eighth inning helped preserve the lead. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch captured the moment and what Furcal has meant to the Cardinals in this postgame feature.

Coming attractions: After the pursuit of his first World Series ends, Furcal’s offseason adventure begins. St. Louis inherited a $12 million option for 2012 on Furcal, who turns 34 on October 24, and though there seems to be some mutual interest, more likely his next contract comes via the free-agent market.

Oct 07

Remembering 2011: Javy Guerra


Kirby Lee/US PresswireJavy Guerra

The setup: Guerra pitched most of 2010 at Double-A Chattanooga, finishing with a 2.33 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could see some major-league action this year. But he certainly wasn’t counted on to be a deluxe topping on the Dodger pizza, especially considering he walked 22 in that same period and his offseason work slowed by a deep gash in his right hand. However, the Dodger bullpen-that-was-supposed-to-be quickly fell by the wayside to visa problems and injuries. With Guerra rocking a 1.06 ERA in Chattanooga with 15 strikeouts in 17 innings and only eight hits and five walks allowed, his ticket to Los Angeles was punched.

The closeup: Five games into his major-league career, Don Mattingly turned to Guerra (after Rubby De La Rosa made his major-league debut in the eighth inning) to close a 5-4 victory over Houston on May 24. With as little fanfare as one could have imagined, Guerra remained in the traditional closer’s role for the remainder of the season, and simply excelled, saving 20 games in 22 opportunities with a 2.31 ERA. His strikeouts weren’t sky-high, especially for a closer – 7.3 per nine innings – and he could occasionally get in trouble, such as the July 8 game against the Padres when he loaded the bases with none out and a 1-0 lead on a double and two hit batters. But he escaped that game and for the season really was superb, soothingly so for a rattled Dodger fan base.

From June 15 through August 12, he pitched 17 1/3 innings, struck out 17, allowed one run (0.52 ERA) on a .404 opponents’ OPS and stranded all five inherited baserunners. Though he usually came in at the start of an inning, he entered a July 25 game against Colorado with the bases loaded and one out, the Dodger lead having been reduced from 8-1 to 8-5, and retired Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith on a popout and a groundout. Only the home run he allowed in the Dodgers’ September 27 collapse against Arizona, in his final game of the year, pushed his season ERA above 2. One reason for Guerra’s success as a closer? He actually performed better against left-handed batters than against righties, which kept opposing managers from overwhelming him with opposite-side batters.

Coming attractions: Guerra, who turns 26 on Halloween, is the incumbent closer, a role I hope he retains even if Kenley Jansen continues to overshadow him as a strikeout god. But to hang onto the job, he will probably need to make sure his strikeout-walk ratio doesn’t fall much below this year’s 2.1.

Oct 06

Remembering 2011: Aaron Miles


Evan Habeeb/US PresswireAaron Miles

The setup: After hitting .185 with a .224 on-base percentage in 74 games for the Cubs in 2009, Miles was traded to the A’s, traded to the Reds, released and signed by St. Louis within a six-month period. He began to rebuild his career with the Cardinals in the second half of 2010, hitting .281 with a .311 OBP in 79 games. A free agent, Miles wasn’t signed for 2011 until February by the Dodgers, whose thin bench made him a contender for a spot on the 25-man roster.

The closeup: Miles not only wore a Dodger uniform on Opening Day, he was pressed into starting duty at third base in two of the first three games. By the last week of April, injuries to Rafael Furcal and Juan Uribe created openings in the lineup for both Jamey Carroll and Miles, who would end up starting 110 times in 2011 with 490 plate appearances, his most since 2004 and fifth most on the ’11 Dodgers. (Miles and Carroll combined for exactly 1,000 plate appearances this season.)

Miles unexpectedly thrived as a Dodger, with a 4-for-4 performance on July 1 raising his batting average for the season to .324, though he only had five walks in 227 plate appearances. That won him many fans in Dodger dugout – Don Mattingly started Miles in every spot of the batting order except cleanup and ninth – as well as in the cheap seats, in what to that point was obviously an especially trying year for the franchise overall. So when he hit .231 for the remainder of the season (though with a higher walk rate), few noticed.

Coming attractions: Miles, who has changed organizations eight times in his career, may yet return to the Dodgers, who have room for an experienced reserve in the infield. The 35-year-old would command a raise from his $500,000 salary, but nothing earthshattering. Whether the Dodgers should go out of their way to retain someone whose .660 OPS was his highest in three years is another matter, but odds are if they don’t end up with Miles, they’ll end up with someone like him. By comparison, Carroll, who turns 38 in February, had a .706 OPS this year.

Oct 05

Remembering 2011: Juan Castro


Jesse Johnson/US PresswireJuan Castro

The setup: The long-respected defender played in exactly one game for the Dodgers in 2010, his third separate stint with the team. Nonetheless, in December, Los Angeles re-signed him as a minor-league free agent. He almost retired in March after not making the Opening Day roster, but ended up heading to the minors — where he promptly missed a month with an oblique injury. Still, once he was back on the field, was there any doubt he’d find his way back to Dodger Stadium? On May 13, almost exactly 20 years after the Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent at age 19, the Dodgers brought Castro up from Albuquerque, sending Ivan De Jesus Jr. down to play in Triple-A regularly.

The closeup: Castro helped the Dodgers to two extra-inning wins, on May 20 against the White Sox and on June 4 in Cincinnati, where he had a leadoff single in Los Angeles’ four-run 11th inning. But two days later, when the Dodgers decided to launch the Dee Gordon era in the wake of another Rafael Furcal injury, Castro was designated for assignment. On June 10, he retired from baseball, finishing his season with a career-high .286 batting average (4 for 14) and his playing career with a.595 OPS in 1,103 games over 17 seasons. Rarely charged with errors, Castro also has the 15th-highest fielding percentage for shortstops in MLB history. His retirement arguably paved the way for Eugenio Velez to become a Dodger a month later.

Coming attractions: It was initially reported that Castro would be a special assistant to Ned Colletti, but he is actually serving as a minor-league roving instructor for the Dodgers.

Oct 05

Remembering 2011: Casey Blake


Jesse Johnson/US PresswireCasey Blake

The setup: After an .832 OPS in his first full season as a Dodger in 2009, Blake played in 146 games in 2010 but fell to a .727 OPS. The Dodgers believed going into 2011 that Blake would need more regular rest to remain productive.

The closeup: Forget about rest: Blake hit the disabled list before Opening Day, setting the tone for an injury-riddled season. When he did play in April, he was actually red hot, with a .446 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage in 14 games, only to return to the DL before the month was over. When he was activated in late May, he started out 5 for 16, but then suffered through a rough June: .250 on-base percentage, .262 slugging. His third trip to injured reserve soon followed, taking him out for most of July. He was his average self in August (.720 OPS), but on September 1, he finally succumbed to ongoing and career-threatening neck issues and called it a season. He finished his whip-around year with a .713 OPS but played in only 63 games, hitting four home runs.

Coming attractions: For a ballplayer who didn’t become a major-league regular until he was 29, Blake has had a fine career: .336 on-base percentage, .442 slugging and 167 home runs while playing a solid third base. Whether he adds to it remains to be seen. The rumors of his impending retirement might be exaggerated, but how much the 38-year-old family man with five kids ages 10 and under wants to spend another year in the bigs destined to be a reserve is unclear. At a minimum, he became in his 3 1/2-year Dodger tenure one of the team’s top-five third basemen ever in Los Angeles.

Oct 04

Remembering 2011: Nathan Eovaldi


John Amis/APNathan Eovaldi

The setup: Having spent most of 2010 in Single-A ball with Rancho Cucamonga, for whom he posted a 4.45 ERA with 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings, Eovaldi was slated for nothing more than a year’s worth of learning with Chattanooga in the calm of the Double-A Southern League. But his banner season — 2.62 ERA, 99 strikeouts in 103 innings — combined with injuries to Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla and Rubby De La Rosa, vaulted Eovaldi into the Dodger starting rotation August 6.

The closeup: Eovaldi made six starts for the Dodgers before they pulled the 21-year-old into the bullpen as a workload precaution. In all but one of the starts he pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two runs, and if not for a sun-aided bloop double that fell in front of Trent Oeltjen against Colorado on August 28, Eovaldi could have easily gone 6 for 6. Even so, he had a 3.09 ERA as a starter with a .649 opponents’ OPS. Of more concern is that he allowed 43 baserunners in 32 innings while striking out 23. His Expected Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (xFIP), according to Fangraphs, was 4.80.

After his final start, Eovaldi went nine days without pitching in a game, then faced only 15 batters over a 15-day stretch as a reliever, with seven of them reaching base.

Coming attractions: With De La Rosa needing most if not all of 2012 to recover from Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi is a leading contender to take a place in the Dodger starting rotation — though it’s far from impossible that, if Hiroki Kuroda returns, the Dodgers might find a way to start Eovaldi in the minors again. There’s great respect for the three-level leap that U-less made this year, but whether he’s ready to sustain that over an entire major-league season at age 22 remains somewhat in doubt. Nathaniel Stoltz’s analysis at Seedlings to Stars (via Lasorda’s Lair) suggests that Eovaldi might be too reliant on his fastball.