Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Bench (Page 1 of 2)

What about the Dodger bench?

We can all acknowledge the value of adding depth to the Dodger pitching staff, let alone the thrill that someone like Max Scherzer would bring, 

But some of the Dodgers’ most important midseason trades haven’t been superstars like Yu Darvish or Manny Machado. I’m thinking about guys like Marlon Anderson, Ronnie Belliard, Chase Utley and David Freese. Guys who were role players and/or past their prime, but had a huge domino effect. 

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Dodgers sign Will Venable, option Austin Barnes

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 6:40 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian González, 1B
Trayce Thompson, RF
Joc Pederson, CF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Howie Kendrick, LF
Kenta Maeda, P

By Jon Weisman

Having gone without a left-handed bat off the bench since Carl Crawford was designated for assignment June 5, the Dodgers have signed outfielder Will Venable.

Austin Barnes, who was 0 for 4 with a walk since being called up to replace Crawford on the 25-man roster, was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City to make room for Venable, who will wear No. 25 (which coach Mark McGwire had most recently used).

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Dodgers press on with four on bench, eight relievers

Cincinnati Reds vs Los Angeles Dodgers

The Emirates ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Monday was a strike.

Reds at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Utley, 2B
Corey Seager, SS
Justin Turner, 3B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Trayce Thompson, LF
Joc Pederson, CF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Mike Bolsinger, P

By Jon Weisman

No one’s really a fan of an eight-man bullpen and a four-man bench, but it has basically made sense for the Dodgers the past seven days, and they plan to continue that way for the next several.

Dave Roberts said today that the Dodgers would probably retain the eight/four split into their upcoming road series in New York and Chicago, a roster construction that began when Charlie Culberson was optioned May 18 to make room for Mike Bolsinger.

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Depth charge: Trayce Thompson and Kiké Hernandez off to fast starts

Arizona Diamondbacks vs Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

When a foul ball fractured the leg of starting left fielder Andre Ethier in March, knocking him out of action for approximately three months, his position fell primarily to Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke.

By the time the Dodgers played their first home game, Crawford and Van Slyke were on the disabled list as well. But the Dodgers have thrived in left field, thanks largely to the fast starts of Trayce Thompson and Kiké Hernandez.

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With Ethier sidelined, who gains a roster spot?

Photos by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Photos by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Roster move: The Dodgers have reassigned non-roster reliever Matt West to minor-league camp. The Dodgers have 41 active players remaining in big-league camp.

By Jon Weisman

On this last Wednesday without baseball until the All-Star Break, let’s consider the domino effect of Andre Ethier’s fractured leg, which not only opens up a spot in the Dodger starting lineup but also the bench.

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What the Dodgers’ postseason 25 might look like

By Jon Weisman

The Dodgers’ rumored interest in slugger Adam Dunn naturally would make one wonder where he would fit on a theoretical postseason roster. Though Dunn appears to be headed to Oakland, with tonight’s 9 p.m. deadline to acquire players for postseason play, let’s take a completely unofficial look at how the Dodgers’ playoff 25 would stack up if no moves are made today.

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren

Relief pitchers (7): Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson, Jamey Wright, and Brandon League, plus two from Pedro Baez, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Perez and Paco Rodriguez

Starting lineup (8): A.J. Ellis, Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon, Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp

Bench (6): Drew Butera, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke and one from Erisbel Arruebarrena, Darwin Barney or Alex Guerrero (or, dare we speculate, Joc Pederson)

The top Dodger bench players of the 21st century


By Jon Weisman

Justin Turner is having a terrific season off the bench for the Dodgers, punctuated by his game-winning homer Thursday to beat the Padres.

He’s had me wondering who the top players off the bench for the Dodgers have been in recent years, so I put together the following chart of the best Dodger reserves from the 2000s (choosing names mainly from this list):

Bench players

Notes: I tried to avoid considering players who were meant to be starters but held back by injuries or late-season acquisitions who immediately became full-time players. Def is a Fangraphs statistic measuring defense.

For all the above numbers, the idea of who’s the best Dodger reserve of the 21st century is arguably a matter of taste.

  • Chad Kreuter has the highest Wins Above Replacement. Backing up Todd Hundley and forced into action for significant stretches, Kreuter had a great on-base percentage while also throwing out 19 of 40 attempted baserunners with one error.
  • His defense always unassailable, Alex Cora put together his finest offensive season in 2002.
  • With 425 plate appearances in 2009, Juan Pierre stretches the definition of bench player, but he did begin the season as the fourth outfielder before Manny Ramirez’s suspension.
  • Jose Hernandez in 2004 and Dave Hansen in 2000 were probably the Dodgers’ top pure offensive players off the bench this century before this season.
  • The back-to-back seasons from Olmedo Saenz in 2004-05 certainly make him a charmer.

Against that group, both Turner and Scott Van Slyke stand tall, and there’s an argument to be made that if you could pick only one infielder and one outfielder off the Dodger bench from the 21st century, it would be those two.

Long wait deepens Clint Robinson’s reward


Seven and a half months before his 30th birthday, Clint Robinson got his first Major League hit. That it was a game-winning hit was obviously no small bonus, but as Dylan Hernandez of the Times wrote, “the two months Manager Don Mattingly’s team spent chasing the Giants was nothing compared to how long Robinson waited for to live a dream.”

“Twenty-nine years and counting,” Robinson told Hernandez. “I have so many emotions right now, it’s kind of hard to even put words together.

“Man, that feels good,” Robinson said he told himself as he reached first base, Hernandez added.

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Arc de Triunfel latest monument to champs, L.A. says

[mlbvideo id=”33818367″ width=”550″ height=”308″ /]
By Jon Weisman

From some fair diamond, miles upon miles away, Eugenio Velez looks at Carlos Triunfel and shakes his head.

Triunfel, the Dodgers’ all’s-a-shortstop-that’s-going-to-shortstop tonight after Hanley Ramirez joined Justin Turner (not to mention Juan Uribe, Chone Figgins and Alex Guerrero) on the sidelines in the seventh inning tonight, hit his first career home run immediately upon entry, providing a valuable insurance run as the Dodgers clung to a 4-2 victory over the Rockies.

The 24-year-old April 2 acquisition from Seattle has two hits in his first two at-bats as a Dodger, two more than Velez had for the 2011 Dodgers in 37 at-bats. But I come not to bury Velez. Not to praise him, either, but mainly to point out that there are no small parts in baseball, only small actors with unpredictable comic timing.

As the Dodgers aim to climb out of a 9 1/2-game hole in the National League West for the second summer in a row — and in the past nine days, they have shaken the streets of San Francisco, reducing their distance from the Giants by 4 1/2 games — the little guys and role players, whom the narrative so recently told us the Dodgers were sorely lacking, have loomed large.

Consider what’s happened merely on the left side of the infield since Uribe went on the disabled list:

  • Turner is OPSing .764 on the season and .951 in his last 95 plate appearances since May 9.
  • Figgins had a .373 on-base percentage before going on the disabled list himself.
  • Erisbel Arruebarrena went 4 for 13 with a walk.
  • Miguel Rojas is 6 for 21 (.286).
  • Jamie Romak is … for now, keeping us humble. But stand by.

Together, the group has hit adequately. It has fielded adequately. It has done both with the occasional flourish, particularly from Turner until his calf started acting up.

But this is what the reserve role demands. Hold the fort and fire off the occasional salvo. Same with the Scott Van Slykes and Drew Buteras of the ravine. While observers near and far were quick to point out all the Schumakers and Puntos that the 2014 Dodgers lacked, what they weren’t noticing was that a new breed was coming along right under their noses.

Combine that with a little well-directed Ramirez team spirit, and lo! Forsooth, a new narrative. There comes a time when, instead of focusing on what you isn’t present or isn’t working, you start making the best of what is.

Note on the headline: Too much. I know.


It’s a bright, bright Chone Chiny day


Dodgers at Mets, 4:10 p.m.
Chone Figgins, 2B
Yasiel Puig, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Justin Turner, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Zack Greinke, P

By Jon Weisman

There was some scoffing when Chone Figgins signed on to reboot his Major League career with the Dodgers, but so far, so good.

Figgins has developed a fairly specific role with the Dodgers: Come off the bench to lead off an inning and, without any seeming threat of power, get on base.

In his 27 plate appearances so far this season, 16 of them have been as the first batter of an inning, and he has a .500 on-base percentage (and .455 slugging percentage) in those situations. He also has a .474 OBP as a pinch-hitter.

Tonight, in the Dodgers’ 48th game, Figgins makes only his third start of the year, though his rate should increase now that Juan Uribe is on the disabled list and Justin Turner will be needed over there. Dee Gordon still hasn’t been a convincing hitter against left-handed pitchers, registering a .200 on-base percentage (8 for 40 with no walks) and .250 slugging percentage this year. It would be going too far to say he can’t improve those numbers, but against Mets lefty Jonathon Niese (2.54 ERA, .446 right-handed opponents’ OPS), it’s a sensible enough time to let Gordon come off the bench.

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April 22 pregame: Short bench, long bullpen

Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers

This is not a new backup infielder for the Dodgers. Hyun-Jin Ryu Bobblehead Night is May 27.

Phillies at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Carl Crawford, LF
Yasiel Puig, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Matt Kemp, CF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Dee Gordon, 2B
Tim Federowicz, C
Hyun-Jin Ryu, P

By Jon Weisman

Since Chone Figgins was sent to Albuquerque, I’ve spent a little time thinking about this four-man bench the Dodgers are using. Normally, a 13-man pitching staff strikes me as excessive, but it’s hard to deny that right now, the 25th spot on the roster is better spent on an arm than … well, an arm and all the other body parts that position players use.

The five existing outfielders have the grass portion of Dodger Stadium covered. Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t coming out for a pinch-hitter anytime soon, and Dee Gordon and Justin Turner have locked up second base. If anyone needs a rest or is knocked out by injury mid-game, Scott Van Slyke can play first, and Turner the rest.

The Dodgers are thin in the pinch-hitting department, but it’s also not something they’ve done much of. In 20 games, the Dodgers have used 29 pinch-hitters — less than two per game. That’s not to say that with a deeper bench there wouldn’t have been more, but it wouldn’t have been much more. Last year, the Dodgers gave 209 plate appearances to pinch-hitters.

Figgins, believe it or not, is the only Dodger pinch-hitter to reach base more than twice this season, and 20 games into 2014, the Dodgers still don’t have a pinch-homer, pinch-triple or pinch-double. (They do have a pinch-sacrifice fly, from Justin Turner.)

By comparison, the 2014 Dodgers have gone to the bullpen 79 times, practically four times a game, for a total of 74 1/3 innings. And even the guys who have struggled some this year have an impact by taking away innings that would otherwise stress out the others. In most cases, a pinch-hitter is there for a minute and then gone.

Where the Dodgers could benefit is where every MLB team could benefit. It would be nice if their backup catcher weren’t held hostage and chained to the bench by the potential of an emergency. For most games, the backup catcher doesn’t exist as an option, meaning that realistically, the Dodgers’ four-man bench is actually three. But until the pitching changes decrease, less is probably more when it comes to the bench.

* * *

This is from a couple weeks back, but still worth a look. “Dr. James Andrews explains why Tommy John surgery is on the rise,” via Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk.

His answer: it’s not an anomaly, it’s a trend. And an alarming one, he says, in that so many more of the surgeries he’s performing are for high school pitchers as opposed to professionals with a few years under their belt. Kids are bigger and stronger these days, and their ability to throw harder is outpacing the development of their ulnar collateral ligaments.

But the biggest risk factor he and his researchers are seeing: year-round baseball. The fact that not only do pitchers throw year-round, but that they are pitching in competition year-round, and don’t have time to recover. Also: young players are playing in more than one league, where pitch count and innings rules aren’t coordinated. Another factor: the radar gun. Young pitchers who throw over 85 or so are at risk, and all of them who are on a major league track are throwing that fast or faster, and are going up in effort when scouts with guns are around.

Pinch-hitting a calling card for Mike Baxter

Mike Baxter, second from left, runs with fellow reserve candidates Miguel Rojas, Dee Gordon, Nick Buss and Chone Figgins.

Mike Baxter, second from left, runs with fellow reserve candidates Miguel Rojas, Dee Gordon,
Nick Buss and Chone Figgins at Camelback Ranch on Friday.

By Jon Weisman

GLENDALE, Ariz. — He hasn’t been the subject of much chatter at Spring Training, but outfielder Mike Baxter has displayed a special skill that might be of intrigue to fans wondering about the Dodger bench in 2014.

Baxter, quietly claimed October 17 off waivers from the New York Mets by the Dodgers (who were planning for 2014 even during the 2013 National League Championship Series), has a career .417 on-base percentage and .463 slugging in 84 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. His .313 batting average coming in cold off the bench trails only Corey Hart, Jamey Carroll and Seth Smith among MLB players active in 2013.

“A lot of my time has been as a bench player,” the 29-year-old said today. “Over the years, I’ve kind of gotten comfortable in that role, so I have a lot of experience with it. I look forward to getting at-bats off the bench.”

That’s easy enough to understand. In 2012, Baxter was unconscious as a pinch-hitter, leading MLB by going 11 for 24 with eight walks and six doubles for a .458/.559/.708 slash line. He came back in 2013 with a .412 on-base percentage in another 34 pinch-hit plate appearances.

Twice in three nights last year, on May 7 and May 9, Baxter had walkoff singles, the first breaking a 0-0 tie in the bottom of the 10th.

[mlbvideo id=”26983057″ width=”400″ height=”224″ /]

“I’ve developed an in-game routine that I’ve tried to stick to through the course of the season,” Baxter said. “When you’re coming off the bench, you’ve just got to be ready to go from the first pitch they throw you. You get a good pitch to hit, you’ve got to go for it.”

Overall, Baxter has hit .229 in 353 career at-bats, dragged down by a .189 season in 2013, but with walks in 11 percent of his trips to the plate, his lifetime MLB on-base percentage is .335. He walked five times on August 4, 2012 to tie an NL record for a nine-inning game.

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Baxter has also displayed defensive ability as well as determination, earning a broken collarbone on a catch that helped preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter on June 1, 2012. He said he spent the 2013-14 offseason “just trying to get back to kind of staying down through my swing and not popping out of it … staying down through contact.”

Last year, Dodger pinch-hitters OBPed .256 and slugged .313. No one reached base more often as a pinch-hitter than Jerry Hairston, who had seven hits but is now part of the SportsNet LA broadcast team. The Dodgers’ leading returning pinch-hitter is Scott Van Slyke, who went 4 for 10 with a home run.

“I’m excited to be here,” Baxter said. “When they claimed me in October off waivers, I was thrilled to have another chance and come out on a team with such a good roster and so many good players. I’m excited to be a part of it. I know that I can help them win.”

Bill James on the 1981 Dodgers

From the 1982 Bill James Baseball Abstract:

… When I was young the Boston Celtics used to coast through the season with a 50-32 sort of record, far behind the best mark in the league which might in a given season belong to Philadelphia or Los Angeles or whoever. But come playoff time, the Celtics would crush those teams with no apparent ease but considerable regularity. When Bill Russell retired he attributed this to the fact that during the season the Celtics, knowing that they could make the playoffs, would take care to develop their sixth and seventh and eighth players, as well as being careful to decentralize the offense, not relying on any one or two or three scorers to put the points on the board. And then come playoff time, the Celtics would have more weapons than their opponents. Russell could fight Chamberlain to a standoff and the Celtics would win because the rest of their roster was ready to contribute, whereas the reliance on the big man would have gradually weakened the rest of the roster.

I thought of that when I noticed a pattern in the Dodger playing time in the second half of the season. Three of the four first-half champions were veteran teams, near the point of having to start getting some new names in the lineup. But only the Dodgers seemed to realize that, with a spot guaranteed, they might as well start developing some more weapons. All of the Dodger regulars, with no exceptions, batted fewer times in the second half of the season than in the first. The team did play four more games in the first half, but that’s not the cause of it; all eight regulars batted more times per team-game in the first half than the second. The extra at-bats were absorbed by Derrel Thomas, Rick Monday, Reggie Smith, Steve Yeager, Steve Sax, Candy Maldonado and Mike Marshall, who all batted more times in the second half, despite the four fewer games, than they had in the first. The Dodgers also took the opportunity to take a look at Tom Niedenfuer and Dave Stewart and Alejandro Pena, pitchers who figure to help them sometime later.

Then you look over the score sheets of the Dodger victory that led them over the World, and you see Monday’s home run, Yeager everywhere, Derrel Thomas tracking balls down on the track, Niedenfuer shutting people down, Jay Johnstone hitting a key home run. I can’t remember a World Championship that was won with so much help from the bench. Lasorda’s a conservative manager, not really a very interesting manager in substance. But I think you have to give him some real credit here. …

James was in his ascendance at this time – this was his first Abstract that had a formal publisher. The year before, I ordered a copy of the 1981 Abstract from a small ad in The Sporting News, and it came with a hand-designed cover and essentially was photocopied and bound. Reading James at this time was like Clayton Kershaw pitch — you practically salivated over every insight with excitement and no small amount of awe.

Reading the passage above three decades later, I can’t avoid having some amount of skepticism. I don’t necessarily doubt the Dodgers used their bench more than other teams did that year, but a) they might simply have had a more talented bench (I mean, those are some good names up there) and b), I question whether their use of the bench was as revolutionary or as James asserts.

But like I said, James was Kershaw. So I am tempted to take it as gospel. And certainly, a similar formula helped propel the 1988 Dodgers to their title. The bottom line is, much like with a bullpen, you need a good bench to win, though it might not be something you plan.

Dodgers at Yankees, 10:05 a.m.

Ceci n’est pas une bench

Alex Castellanos
Tim Federowicz
Dee Gordon
Tony Gwynn Jr.
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Elian Herrera
Nick Punto
Skip Schumaker
Juan Uribe
… et al

Dodgers try to get by on reserve power

Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI
Ronnie Belliard has an .872 OPS in 12 starts this season. The Dodgers are 5-7 when he is in the starting lineup.

Until further notice — hopefully days but possibly weeks — the Dodgers will be playing without two starting position players, Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal. It’s the second time this season this has happened: Furcal and Manny Ramirez were both on the sidelines from April 27 through May 7.

Those injuries, combined with scheduled rest for older players and the semi-platooning of Blake DeWitt, have meant there have been 11 games this year in which the Dodgers have started at least three reserves. The Dodgers are 4-7 in those games, averaging 3.5 runs per game.

Los Angeles is 16-10 when it has at least six regulars starting.

Oddly, in games with four or more reserves starting, the Dodgers are 2-2, but in games with three reserves starting, the Dodgers are 2-5.

  • Dodgers 10, Pirates 2 (April 8): Brad Ausmus (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Reed Johnson (LF), Garret Anderson (RF)
  • Marlins 6, Dodgers 5 (April 11): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)
  • Giants 9, Dodgers 0 (April 17): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Garret Anderson (LF)
  • Dodgers 2, Giants 1 (April 18): Ronnie Belliard (1B), Jamey Carroll (2B), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Nationals 5, Dodgers 1 (April 23): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Garret Anderson (LF)
  • Nationals 1, Dodgers 0 (April 25): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)
  • Mets 10, Dodgers 5 (April 27, Game 2): A.J. Ellis (C), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Mets 7, Dodgers 3 (April 28): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Xavier Paul (LF)
  • Dodgers 9, Pirates 3 (May 2): Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Xavier Paul (LF)
  • Brewers 11, Dodgers 3 (May 5): Ronnie Belliard (2B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Reed Johnson (LF)
  • Dodgers 1, Padres 0 (May 16): Nick Green (2B), Ronnie Belliard (3B), Jamey Carroll (SS), Garret Anderson (LF), Reed Johnson (RF)

Sunday’s 1-0 victory over San Diego was the first time since in nearly three weeks that Joe Torre rested more than one healthy player in the same game. The Dodgers are 3-4 when they rest more than one healthy player (again, keeping in mind that some of these decisions involve a platoon situation).

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