Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alex Guerrero, Joc Pederson might force Dodgers' hand for promotion

Los Angeles Dodger history is littered with the dried-out husks of never-beens who dominated Albuquerque, but in principle you get to the bigs by putting up video game numbers in Triple-A. If you're a AAA all-star, that's nice. You've got a solid little .900 OPS in AAA, good for you. Unless your team has a need at your spot, that doesn't get you anywhere.

Well, the Dodgers have a couple guys off to a screaming hot start in AAA. Furthermore they're not Cinderella stories where you're not sure if the performance is a mirage. These are guys you expected to see this from at some point, who are just saying "The time is now."

One is Alex Guerrero. After nine games in AAA, he's just got a triple slash line of .467/.568/.900. He has struck out ONCE in 37 plate appearances. Not only is that incredibly impressive in and of itself, it indicates that the top line results are not BABIP-driven or lucky. I haven't seen his fielding or heard detailed reports, but the numbers look good; just one error, and he's getting a lot of chances.

The Dodgers are already paying the guy major league money, have him signed for four years, and his arbitration clock is not an issue at all, so there is no financial reason to keep him down. Chone Figgins has already been demoted and Justin Turner is not hitting, so the time very much seems ripe to let Guerrero at least get the starts against lefties, be a frequent pinch-hitter, and maybe even get some time at shortstop when Turner is needed elsewhere. Sure, it's just nine  games, but he had a pretty solid spring and has years of experience in Cuba. He was expected to just need a little time to acclimate, but it looks to me like that job is done.

Dee Gordon is doing great, and a lot of it is legit improvement. But his performance is pretty luck driven. Yes, he's at .355/.397/.468 but that's with a .404 BABIP. Even giving him a ton of credit for being able to leg out some grounders and choppers, you can't expect more than maybe a .330 BABIP from him. Just to be simple about it, take away .075 from each of his numbers and you get a more realistic .280/.324/.393. Doing that and stealing a base every other game and playing halfway-competent defense (which is all he's doing) makes you a pretty OK player; a borderline regular. Guerrero looks like he might be more than that, and start to take the job back against most right-handed starters too. 

The Dodgers sent Figgins down and called up Jose Dominguez since they had worked the bullpen a bit harder than they'd like and needed an extra arm short-term. When the bullpen is rested again, and a position player can be brought back in, look for the callup to be Guerrero, not Figgins.

The word on Guerrero is that his defense "looks stiff." I don't really care how it looks; he's making a good number of the plays. Gordon, on the other hand, is not.  He was a terrible shortstop and now he is a bad second baseman. He's made a couple tough plays but on the other hand he's botched more than a couple easy ones. Net-Net, he's not doing that well in the field compared to other major-league second basemen. Guerrero shouldn't need to be perfect to get the job, he should just need to be the best option. Right now (or really in a week or two from right now if he keeps it up) it looks to me like he should at least get a chance at the major league level to show that he is.

The other farmhand demanding attention is Joc Pederson, who after 19 games in AAA at age-22, is slashing .417/.522/.736 with six steals. Joc's case for immediate promotion is much harder to make. In his case, a promotion does start the arbitration clock, plus there is no real place for him to play even though Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford are both off to lousy starts, and Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are off to mediocre starts. If Ned could work a trade of an outfielder for a catcher, say Nick Hundley, that might be what it takes for Joc to get a chance.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Dodgers Digest

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jansen vs. Cabrera showdown sparks memory of Gagne vs. Bonds

In the top of the ninth, with a 2-1 lead, a man on second, and one out, the Dodgers on Tuesday night elected to have Kenley Jansen pitch to Miguel Cabrera instead of walking him. I don't know about you, but Victor Martinez with men on first and second sounds like a more survivable situation than Cabrera with man on second.

Jansen is about the best there is right now, but so is Cabrera. He just pumped his 98 and 99 MPH fastball/cutter in there a half dozen times and struck him out. He did end up giving up a hit to Martinez to lose the lead, but the confidence boost from going after the world's best hitter in that situation, and getting him, should last a long time.

It reminded me right away of a game I was at 10 years ago in San Francisco.  The moment is captured here.

Eric Gagne and Barry Bonds were both 'roided up to superhero proportions, which we all kind of knew at the time, but it didn't really matter. Gagne knew he could give up a home run and still have the lead, so he just went at Bonds with 99-101 MPH fastballs. Bonds just laughed at that and pulled it foul into the Bay before taking the next one and depositing it in the center field bleachers.

Best thing about these memories -- the Dodgers won both games.

Photo credit: File photo

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dodgers 6, Giants 2: Kemp and Hanley mash, Zack Greinke excels

Welcome back, Beast Mode.

Matt Kemp hit his first two homers of 2014 and continued to look excellent at the dish. The Bison drove in three and has looked like The Bison of old through three games while displaying good command of the strike zone.

Hanley Ramirez also homered twice in his breakout game of the young season, driving in a pair and adding a double in the process.

Zack Greinke whiffed eight without allowing a walk over six frames of two-run, six baserunner ball. The two runs allowed were dingers off the bats of Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence. Greinke threw 69 of his 94 pitches for strikes.

The bullpen was excellent following Greinke, as four relievers combined to fan eight Giants over three innings of work. Kenley Jansen wrapped things up by striking out three around a broken-bat bloop single.

Yasiel Puig missed the game due to an injured thumb suffered from sliding head-first into first base yesterday. It's a dumb thing to do when it's Nick Punto doing it, and it's equally dumb for Puig or any player to slide head-first into first.

Looking, statistically, at the Dodgers' potential outfield platoons

The first day Don Mattingly got the chance to deal with the four outfielder situation, a tough lefty was on the mound and he actually sat Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. It was kind of obvious to sit one or the other so Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig could play. But going the extra step and playing Scott Van Slyke in left field was a surprising move.

If you take a look at each player's career splits, the SVS/Kemp/Puig outfield is by far the best Dodger fans can do against left-handed pitching. I'm going to use a stat called wRC+ (weight runs created) here which wraps up all you do at the plate and compares it to a league-average hitter (100 is average).

Ethier and Crawford are terrible hitters vs. lefties -- each in the 75-80 range (think Eric Young/Zack Cozart). Kemp and Puig are monsters against LHP, around 170 (think Mike Trout/Chris Davis) and Van Slyke, so far, has been about 20 percent better than league-average (Jay Bruce/Adam Jones). The comparisons I'm making are in terms of the players' overall line, not their split against lefties.

Against Righties, Puig and Ethier are by far the two best choices, around 145 (Joe Mauer/Matt Holliday). Crawford, Kemp and Van Slyke are all about the same, close to 110 (Kyle Seager/Austin Jackson). Now, it's not going be SVS in that situation, so it comes down to Crawford vs. Kemp. Crawford has the edge in defense and baserunning, and remember, we didn't use Crawford against lefties. So if you wanted him to get any starts, you have to give him most of these.

The problem is that about 70-75 percent of the starting pitchers are right-handed, and you're not going to sit Kemp that much. Ethier and Crawford have both been saying team-positive things about the situation, while Kemp, honestly, has not.

Typically, even in games started by righties, around the seventh inning the opposing manager is going to be thinking LOOGY when Ethier and/or Crawford come up. They won't go that way if they know Kemp is on the bench, though. Or even if it's just Van Slyke on the bench, as long as Donnie actually pinch-hits aggressively in that situation, the Dodgers could find themselves in a lot of good match-ups this year. Joc Pederson could get a call-up, especially if there is an injury, but he is another left-handed hitter who can't hit left-handed pitching, so he doesn't really fit well.

For the three outfield spots and some pinch-hit and DH duty, there are probably 600 plate appearances against lefties and 1,525 against righties. But there's a further constraint, as Crawford can only playing left field. Kemp could play all three positions, but that'd just be another thing to upset him. With his arm, Puig is going to be in right if he's on the field (barring the occasional CF emergency).

If you work the platoons as much as you reasonably can, you can get Ethier and Crawford about 450-475 plate appearances each, 80 percent of which would be against righties (we want them to get more than that 70-75 percent number the league offers). Puig and Kemp can get 535 PA each, two-thirds more against righties (we want them to get less than that 70-75 percent number the league offers). And there's still 150-200 chances for SVS, counting a little first base in there. Except for Vans Slyke, these guys have all been regulars and are used to playing the league-average amount against  righties. If we can get the platoon advantage to the degree I just spelled out, I'm comfortable (after running the numbers) raising my projection (wRC+) for all these guys a little.

My Official Projection
Maximum Platooning
Van Slyke

Not a huge impact, but it helps. In fact, the total impact to the team in the wins above replacement framework would be close to one expected win.

It puts some kind of logic behind who plays in which situaton. For Ethier, it is a particular boon. I had been looking for him to continue his decline, but if the Dodgers can finally hold him out against lefties, his production could have more of an impact.

Photo credit: McD22, Flickr

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dodgers' early injuries are worrisome, but they're still the class of the West

One of the few things that could derail the Dodgers this year is injuries. Wouldn't you know it, the season is a week old and we're already hearing Clayton Kershaw and Brian Wilson may miss significant time.

Wilson has a common (1-in-5) side effect of Tommy John Surgery, where he's experiencing nerve irritation. Best case, he comes back after a few weeks of rest and medication. Worst case he needs a surgery to reset the nerve. Even worst case, he comes back at some point this season I think.

The significance of Kershaw's injury keeps growing. First it was like a sore back. Then he was expected to be out for a few weeks. Now it is maybe two months. And it's a muscle that's technically part of his rotator cuff.  Shoulder injuries are scarier than elbow injuries for pitchers, because the repairability is much less. So everyone is saying "back injury" instead of "shoulder injury" but to be realistic it is at least a little shouldery. Should we call it a shack injury or a boulder injury?

Unless we continue to hear worse things, both guys are coming back. Frankly, I like the idea of reducing everyone's workload this year anyway. The Dodgers are favored to run away with the division, and arriving at the end of the regular season with everyone healthy and rested ought to be the main goal (unless an unexpected race develops in the division).
A little foresight would have gone a long way there, Honey. Maybe don't fly your ace 16 hours and 18 time zones away to start a game after a short spring to prepare, when you expect to win your division by 10 games more. But anyway ...

If these two were replaced by replacement level players for 70 starter innings pitched and 30 reliever innings pitched, the Dodgers still project to 95 wins (down from 98) and a comfortable division title. But in point of fact, Wilson's setup innings will be pitched by other good bullpen guys, whose innings will themselves be replaced by innings from Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez. Kershaw's innings, meanwhile, will be pitched by Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett. All these guys are better than replacement level. So, in light of current injuries, I still expect the Dodgers to win 96 games.

Bottom line, I am far, far away from worried about championship hopes this year. Even a heartbreaking disaster scenario where Kershaw and Wilson are out for the year, and we start to see Triple-A starters coming in, the Dodgers still probably win 92 games and get to the playoffs. Trying to go through the playoffs in that case becomes a lot less likely, but as long as these guys are expected to be back strong by September, the Dodgers remain the World Series favorite (not that they have a greater than 50 percent chance of winning the World Series, just that they have more chance than any other single team).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dodgers 3, Padres 2: Yasiel Puig disrespects San Diego with a Monster homer

The Dodgers moved to 3-1 on the young season with a win over the Padres behind Puig's bat and Zack Greinke's solid season debut.

  • Puig hit his first home run of the season, a 2-run bomb to left. It was so, so disrespectful. He also singled.
  • Juan Uribe had his second 3-hit game of the season as he doubled once and singled twice.
  • Greinke threw five innings of two-run ball, allowing four baserunners while fanning five and walking two. He also allowed a long-ball and threw a wild pitch.
  • Kenley Jansen worked out of a tough bases-loaded ninth inning jam to close the door on the Friars, striking out a pair in the process.
  • Chris Withrow, Paco Rodriguez, and J.P. Howell all threw scoreless innings in relief of Greinke.

Brian Wilson is headed to the DL with elbow issues. Eric Stephen of True Blue LA has more on the injury and Wilson's attempt to pitch through it on Sunday.