2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Paco Rodriguez

December 31, 2013 at 9:36 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Paco Rodriguez | Leave a comment

90topps_pacorodriguez

2.32 ERA / 3.08 FIP 54.1 IP 10.44 K/9 3.44 BB/9 (B-)

2013 in brief: Good for the first five months, shockingly bad for the last two.

2014 status: Still supposed to start the season in the pen, although the signing of Chris Perez now complicates things.

Previous: 2012

******

Everyone thank Punto4President for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Paco. Thanks!

Using ERA to judge pitchers is dumb. Using ERA to judge relief pitchers is dumber. Using ERA to judge left-handed specialist relief pitchers is literally the dumbest thing that exists in the entire history of the known universe, even more so than voluntarily choosing to pitch to Jason Heyward over Reed Johnson in a close-and-late situation (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get there). So, really, the fact alone that Paco had an unsightly ERA in September (not going to post it, even for comedic effect) doesn’t come close to illustrating how shaky he really was.

Here are some fun relevant numbers for you (obvious caveat of small [not large] sample size):

1.168 OPS against
-0.691 WPA
30% line drive rate
9 combined walks and HR allowed to 7 strikeouts

Happy Paco’s September, everybody! And you wonder why the Dodgers have signed forty relievers this offseason. Paco had submitted a surprisingly good performance in 2012 and mostly brilliant work for most of 2013, but make no mistake: he looked legitimately horrendous down the stretch, and justifiably was almost completely ignored by Don in the playoffs (yes, it’s coming).

It seems a little paranoid to immediately jump to the “OMG HE WAZ OVERWORKED!” conclusion, especially since Paco’s 54.1 innings in 2013 pale in comparison to his 81.2 innings between college and three pro levels in 2012, but it’s important to remember that usage rates have to be considered differently for relief pitchers, and especially relief specialists. Just going by innings pitched alone doesn’t account for all those extra pitches thrown during bullpen warm-ups, and also doesn’t take into consideration the additional stress put on pitches thrown while under duress.

It’s much more relevant, then, to use Paco’s 76 total appearances as an indicator of his usage (easily more than he’d had in any other season in his career), as well as the fact that almost all of his appearances came in high-leverage situations. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that Don might have actually counted on him a little too much, especially since the Dodgers had another perfectly fine lefty reliever in the pen (Howell) who got used, for instance, zero times from July 26 to July 31 and zero times again from August 25 to September 2.

It remains important to remember, though, that Paco was completely and totally lights out when he was effective during 2013, which was basically during that magical 42-8 stretch when everyone was playing out of their mind. Fun relevant numbers for you, redux (sample size is still the opposite of large):

.372 OPS against
2.15 WPA
18% line drive rate
8 combined walks and HR to 37 Ks

Happy Paco’s June July and August, everybody! That is so entirely a different pitcher from the September version that it’s like they’re playing different sports. Paco was utterly dominant, amazingly consistent, and a huge (and underrated) part of the team’s historically incredible run, and that definitely should not be forgotten (although his ERA during that stretch, which I’m again not even going to post, definitely should be).

However, it was always obvious that Paco had talent; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so highly regarded out of Florida, and wouldn’t have risen so quickly through the minors to reach the big club in his first full professional season. The September numbers, while limited by their brevity, represent the first time in his career when he’s just seemed completely lost. The fact that they’re also the most recent sample we have of his performance are likewise meaningful (and troubling).

If you want to do that thing where you sum up Paco’s entire season in two video clips, then the following two would be the most relevant:

 

Dammit, remember that game? Of course you do. It was arguably the real turning point of the season (barely knew ya, 2013 Matt Kemp), it was the most satisfying W over the Giants of the season to that point (enjoyably, an even more satisfying one would soon follow), and it was honestly one of the craziest reactions to anything that I’ve ever seen. It should be in that standard collection of reaction gifs that all [completely normal] people have.

But on the other hand…yep, we’re finally here:

rodriguez_heyward_video-play

Sigh. I probably could have written this review without that, but I’m including it for two reasons: 1) To remind Don Mattingly’s die-hard supporters (including, well, Don Mattingly) that, hey, remember this? 2) It was Paco’s last relevant moment of the 2013 season. He pitched just once more in the NLDS (getting hammered in a brief stint during the Game 3 blowout win), and was left off the NLCS roster despite the Dodgers only taking one other lefty reliever. Combined with his September, it was a disappointing way to end what had once looked like a promising season.

So, while the Brian Wilson contract got all the positive attention and the Chris Perez contract got all the negative attention, arguably the most important Dodger reliever signing this offseason was Howell; you just don’t know if Paco can be counted on in 2014, and consequently you should be very happy about the fact that Howell is guaranteed to be on the team.

PUNTO 2016! *drops mic*

*****

Next! Jose Dominguez! We’re nearly done, I swear!

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A Hall Of Fame Ballot

December 30, 2013 at 10:38 am | Posted in Hall of Fame | Leave a comment

mattingly_mcgwire_arizona_2013-04-13Sorry, guys.

Because I’m a baseball writer with a public outlet, I am legally obligated to share my picks for the Hall of Fame. It’s important to note that I am not a member of the BBWAA (someday!), so this is just one man’s opinion, rather than anything that will affect the real balloting. However, I did turn this ballot into the IBWAA, so it’s at least going somewhere, and the rules are the same as for the real thing. (Mostly — Mike Piazza gained entry there last year, so he’s not on the ballot I submitted, but for the purposes of aligning with the real thing in this article, he is.)

I’m going to do my best to not make this 20,000 words — which I could easily do, with probably 19,890 of those words registering my disgust with the BBWAA and the entire process — but first let’s start with cutting down the list from 36 eligible names into something more manageable.

The “Nice career, not going to happen” division (15): Moises Alou, Armando BenitezSean CaseyRay DurhamEric GagneLuis GonzalezJacque JonesTodd JonesPaul Lo DucaHideo NomoKenny RogersRichie Sexson, Lee SmithJ.T. SnowMike Timlin. Alou and Smith are the two that stand out here, but in a ballot like we have this year, there’s just no chance.

The “good first basemen who just don’t make the cut” division (2): Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly

The “I don’t strictly disqualify for PEDs, but you guys aren’t the ones I’m going to the mat for” division (3): Mark McGwire, Sammy SosaRafael Palmeiro

The “Is Jack Morris” division (1): Jack Morris. I don’t imagine the world needs another discussion of why wins don’t matter and how Morris’ case isn’t remarkably better than that of Kevin Brown or Orel Hershiser or Dave Stieb, so I’ll sum it up briefly: I wouldn’t vote for Morris if he were the only one on the ballot, because I don’t consider him a Hall of Famer. Even if I did, I especially can’t consider him as one of the 10 best when this list is so overstuffed, and that means there is no legitimate case to be made for him.

Right there, that’s 21 names off the list. But there’s 15 left, and the rules state you can list only 10. I believe there’s actually a very good case to be made for each of the remaining 15, and so you can see how this is going to get difficult.

So let’s start by sharing the 10 I came to…

  1. Jeff Bagwell
  2. Craig Biggio
  3. Barry Bonds
  4. Roger Clemens
  5. Tom Glavine
  6. Jeff Kent
  7. Mike Mussina
  8. Mike Piazza
  9. Tim Raines
  10. Frank Thomas

…and explaining how I got there. (Briefly. If you want thousands of words on each candidate, do check out Jay Jaffe’s excellent series at SI.)

For Bonds and Clemens, well, you don’t need me to explain their credentials. They may very well be the best hitter and pitcher of all time, and if not, they’re at least in the conversation. On merit alone, they are unquestionably inner-circle elites. The only reason not to vote for them is because of their association with PEDs, and while I can’t condone it, it’s my opinion that hysteria over the effects they have on baseball players is far overblown (not to mention any confidence I may have had in MLB’s handling of the issue has disappeared with the Alex Rodriguez case). The Hall of Fame should be a register of the game’s history. It’s insane to not include two of the best players ever — ones who are eligible to be voted for, unlike Pete Rose, and that’s an important distinction to me — particularly when people had no problem inducting spitballers and cokeheads, and while the BBWAA voters include at least one alleged child molester.

Bagwell, Piazza, and Thomas comprise a group of obvious yes votes for me as well — not only because they were contemporaries, but because they’re three of the best hitters of all time. Piazza probably is the best-hitting catcher who ever played, and he really should have gotten in last year on his first try. Bagwell and Thomas, who famously were born on the same day, are arguably two of the top ten first basemen ever. Any speculation for PED use about this trio is exactly that — unfounded speculation — and again, not enough to keep them out in my book.

Those five are slam dunks, and really, so is Raines for me. I could go on forever about why he deserves to be in, but in the interest of brevity, I can say this: Raines compares extremely similarly with Tony Gwynn, trading in a bit of batting average for a huge advantage on the basepaths. Gwynn made it into the Hall on 97.6% of ballots, largely due to batting average. There’s no reason one is in and not the other.

Biggio‘s a solid choice as well. 3,000 hits is still a magic number, and everyone who made it that far (other than Rose & Palmeiro, for obvious reasons) is in. Hits alone aren’t enough, but 14 years of double-digit homers and a .363 career OBP, playing into his 40s, from three up-the-middle positions, makes him a viable choice. (20 years spent with one team is a nice bonus, if you care about that sort of thing.) He should have made it in last year, and he will this year.

Glavine isn’t really a hard call either. Six top-three Cy Young finishes (and two wins) is a pretty nice start to your candidacy, along with 20 straight years of 29 starts or more. Again, for brevity, I’m not going too deeply into these guys here in writing, but I’ve done the research, and he’s obviously deserving, though probably not as much of a slam-dunk as I think a lot of people think he is.

That’s eight, and now it’s starting to get tough. Kent is a borderline call for me, often overshadowed by Bonds in his time, but he did remain productive until age 39 with the most homers ever hit by a second baseman and better defense than you remember. (Though still hardly great.) In his entire 30s, his lowest seasonal OPS was 2006′ .861, and the history of second base throughout history is relatively thin, enough that it’s easy to look at him as one of the best who ever played. It’s not a slam dunk for me, and he won’t get in this year, but he gets my vote, mostly because I worry that he’s going to get himself 5%’d off the ballot before there’s even a realistic discussion about him.

The final spot on my ballot went back and forth between Mussina and Curt Schilling, who had nearly identical careers. In fact, I was shocked at how similar they ended up being, and I can’t honestly say that there’s a reason to include one and not the other. If I had more spots, they would both be included, because they’re both deserving, and there’s clearly no argument to be made for Morris over either. I’m going Mussina here because Schilling at least made it on 38% of the ballot last year, and that should be enough to keep him around for years to come. Mussina needs the vote here more, and if you’re asking why not just ditch Kent and include both, well, perhaps I should have, but there’s unfortunately some strategy required here.

So with apologies to Schilling, Edgar Martinez, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker, each of whom have cases to be made but are stuck in an incredibly deep field, and might have received my vote had there been no limits, there’s my ballot.

But we’re not done yet. Obviously.

87toppsgregmadduxAt this point, you may have noticed that Greg Maddux is not on my ballot. That’s the case despite the fact that he is basically the perfect HOF candidate. He has everything. He has the peak (four Cy Youngs in a row). He has the longevity (23 years in the bigs). He has the wins that the traditionalists want; he has the advanced stats the new generation wants. He won a ring, he performed in the postseason, he was a great all-around athlete who could handle the bat and was a fantastic fielder, he had absolutely none of the personal issues that set back other candidates, and he did this all in the face of one of the highest-offense eras ever. There is almost literally nothing you could say with a straight face to make a serious case that he doesn’t belong.

In fact, his case is so strong that he should be the first player to make it in unanimously. But he won’t be, thanks to the BBWAA’s antiquated limit of 10 players per ballot. It’s a rule that serves no one, it’s a huge detriment in a year like this where I could make a case for 15-17 players, and this could have been avoided had anyone actually been voted in last year.

And so I’m left with a decision for my hypothetical ballot. Do I vote for Maddux, pushing him from something like 98.7% to 98.8%? (I’m assuming a few others leave him off, either for the same reason or because of the ludicrous stance some of have of never voting for first-year guys.) Or do I use it to help ensure that a deserving second-level guy like Kent merely gets the 5% needed to stay in the discussion next year?

Really, having to think that way is insane. This should be as simple as “is this player worthy of the honor,” without having to factor in whomever else is on the ballot. Instead, we have to bring in strategy and decide not only who is a Hall of Famer, but who really needs that vote.  It’s a decision that shouldn’t need to be made, yet here we are. Greg Maddux, Hall of Famer… and not on my ballot. Thanks, BBWAA. You did this.

2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Onelki Garcia

December 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Posted in 2013 in Review, Onelki Garcia | Leave a comment

90topps_onelkigarcia13.50 ERA / 20.30 FIP 1.1 IP 6.75 K/9  27.00 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it to the bigs for three cameo appearances.

2014 status: Under team control, likely to spend as much time in Albuquerque as Los Angeles after offseason elbow surgery.

******

Yeah, I lied. I said Paco Rodriguez is next. We’ll do him tomorrow, probably. Today seems like a great time to get Onelki Garcia out of the way, and while I promise this site isn’t just going to be player reviews forever, it’s the final days of the calendar year and things are beyond slow.

Garcia got into a single game for Rancho in 2012 after being drafted, so merely making it to the bigs in 2013 makes his season a nice success. In 35 games for Chattanooga and Albuquerque, spent mostly in relief, he struck out 67 in 62 innings. That’s good. But he also walked 35, which was decidedly less good.

Still, it got him to the bigs in September, and we were excited:

Last summer, J.P. Hoornstra looked at the six-month journey of Garcia and others to escape Cuba and reach America in 2010, which was then followed a move from Miami to California before the Dodgers even drafted him. He hasn’t pitched in a game since September 2, though he was throwing bullpens and live batting practice in Arizona over the last few days, including to Matt Kemp. (No word on how many of the four dingers Kemp hit the other day came off of Garcia.)

In 62 innings between Double-A & Triple-A this year, Garcia struck out 67, though he did walk over five per nine. Garcia has held minor league lefties to a paltry .143/.272/.143 line in his short career, and I imagine we’ll mostly see him as a LOOGY, as well as to give some relief to Paco Rodriguez, who — along with Ronald Belisario & Kenley Jansen – ranks among the top ten in baseball in games pitched.

Garcia saw one batter in his first game and walked him on four pitches before immediately getting yanked, then saw two more brief appearances, though the results really don’t matter in that kind of sample size. He was supposed to represent the Dodgers in the Arizona Fall League, but got into only one game before leaving to have left elbow surgery. He’s supposed to be ready to go by Opening Day, but it won’t matter — with newcomers Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, & Seth Rosin joining the returning J.P. Howell & Brian Wilson as well as incumbents Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League, Javy Guerra, & Chris Withrow, there’s no room at the inn for Garcia. That’s fine, though, because he clearly needs some more time in the minors to harness his considerable talent. We’ll be seeing him in 2014, no doubt.

******

Next! Paco, obviously.

2013 Dodgers in Review #42: RP Josh Wall

December 28, 2013 at 9:05 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Josh Wall | Leave a comment

90topps_joshwall

18.00 ERA / 7.34 FIP  7.0 IP 9.0 K/9 7.7 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it into just six April games for the Dodgers before getting sent back to Albuquerque, then shipped off to Miami in July as part of the Ricky Nolasco deal.

2014 status: Likely to fight for time in the Angels bullpen.

******

Poor Josh Wall. What can you really say about him? No, really, what can you say about him? That’s literally the question I’m asking myself here. Wall didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but was recalled on April 15 after Shawn Tolleson was injured, and alternated some pretty filthy stuff with some pretty filthy stat lines. Really, the one that ended his Dodger career — allowing seven earned runs in Colorado — barely even felt like his fault, because he was asked to throw 62 pitches and take one for the team after Ted Lilly couldn’t even get past two innings.

Wall was sent down after that and struggled with his control in Albuquerque before being included in the Nolasco deal, and while I do like Wall and think he’s got a future as a middle reliever, remember that we absolutely loved the price paid for Nolasco, so that should tell you all you need to know there. He never did get into a game for Miami — which is somewhat surprising, and had I known that, I might not have made his card Miami-flavored when I made it three months ago — and was eventually claimed off waivers by the Angels in October.

Wall ends his Dodger career with the worst ERA (min 10 innings) in team history, largely thanks to that Colorado game. He also has the 17th worst mark in MLB history, so at least he’s got that going for him, at least until he gets some time in with the Angels.

******

Next! Paco Rodriguez‘ mostly great year!

2013 Dodgers in Review #41: RP Carlos Marmol

December 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Posted in 2013 in Review, Carlos Marmol | Leave a comment

90topps_carlosmarmol2.53 ERA / 3.94 FIP 21.1 IP 11.39 K/9  8.02 BB/9 (C+)

2013 in brief: I’m trying to figure out a nice way to say “not quite as awful as we expected”.

2014 status: Free agent.

******

Everyone thank Paul for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Marmol. Thanks, Paul!

The fact that Mike was willing to hand this review off to me probably tells you most of what you need to know about Carlos Marmol’s time as a Dodger. But let’s not forget that there was once a time when waking up to “Dodgers acquire Carlos Marmol” would have been a big deal. The type of deal where you’d expect a top prospect headed to Chicago and an argument about the relative value of “closers” to ensue. Of course, those are no longer the circumstances, and here we are trying to make some sense of the enigma that is Carlos Marmol.

When the rumors started to surface that the Dodgers may have a trade for Marmol in the works, the consensus response seemed to go something like, “Oh God, why?!?!?” and with good reason. He was no longer considered a dominant closer– or even an effective major league pitcher really. He had become something of a poster boy for the ill-advised, long term, big money contract to an eminently replaceable relief pitcher. The only explanation seemed to be that Ned Colletti was involved in an elaborate scheme to get all of baseball’s washed up closers in one room for a group photo. Who was next? Was Dennis Eckersley coming out of retirement? (No.) Brian Wilson? (Yes.)

However, through either uncanny foresight or some inside information, Mike cautioned us to wait for the details before making our final judgments, insisting that we weren’t going to hate it as much as we might think. When we learned that the player headed out the door was Matt Guerrier, we all breathed a collective sigh of a relief. When we found out that Marmol had agreed to spend some time in the minor leagues and that we would also receive international cap space along with some cash, we were actually sort of happy about the whole thing.

The temptation here is to turn this review into an exploration of just how useless Guerrier and his awful contract turned out (useless enough that Marmol was seen as a marginal improvement), but that’s a discussion for another day. The fact is that Colletti had managed to turn a seat-filler into a lottery ticket, the type of trade that GMs rarely get any credit for but sometimes pays dividends.

The next step was to figure out what exactly we were getting back. We knew that Marmol boasted ungodly strikeout numbers– along with the requisite “control issues,” and we knew that he had managed a 2.8 WAR season as recently as 2010, so there was at least a sliver of hope that he may provide some value.

Chad Moriyama took note of some glaring mechanical flaws and the almost comical inconsistency in his release point, wondering if it might be the sort of issue where Rick Honeycutt could work a miracle. Of course, the term “mechanical flaw” almost seems a little tongue in cheek in this context considering that even at its best Marmol’s entire delivery is essentially one giant mechanical flaw. It’s the sort of delivery that causes pitching coaches to retire early and makes Tim Lincecum say “that can’t be healthy.” When he starts throwing in the bullpen the broadcast immediately flashes a “viewer discretion advised” warning across the screen.

In any case, we knew that he would be on a short leash, and his debut with the big club was less than reassuring. In 1.2 innings of mop-up work against Toronto he gave up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk, and to be completely honest, even most of the outs weren’t particularly convincing.

But something strange happened as the season went on. Curb your expectations; this isn’t a Cinderella story or anything close to one. What happened was Marmol became a “somewhat useful if less than reliable” cog in the bullpen, which is about the best we could have reasonably hoped for. I stand by my use of the word enigma because he ended up posting an 11.4 K/9 rate as a Dodger. That’s approaching Kenley Jansen territory. The punch line, of course, is that despite the elite strikeout rate, his K/BB ratio was an atrocious 1.42. Walking 8 men per 9 innings will do that to you. All in all, he pitched 21.1 innings for the Dodgers with a 2.53 ERA, which is something. He even hit a ball to the warning track in an extra inning game that momentarily Steinered Yasiel Puig. I’m sure there’s a gif of it somewhere.

The point here isn’t that Marmol was good. It’s that he was something. And sometimes “something” is enough to make you a worthwhile addition to a playoff roster. If on June 15 you had placed money on “Carlos Marmol will pitch 3.2 scoreless innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS,” please come forward to claim your fortune.

Marmol is now a free agent, and trying to assess whether or not he has any value in this market is above my pay grade. If it were up to me I’d hand him a non-roster invite to spring training just because he’s a warm body who used to be good, though something tells me there are enough teams desperate for bullpen help that he’ll talk his way into a guaranteed major league deal somewhere.

So long, Carlos. Thanks for not being Matt Guerrier!

******

Next! How many of you remember that Josh Wall pitched for the Dodgers in 2013?

2013 Dodgers in Review #40: RP Peter Moylan

December 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm | Posted in 2013 in Review, Peter Moylan | Leave a comment

90topps_petermoylab6.46 ERA / 6.18 FIP 15.1 IP 352 K/9 4.11 BB/9 (D)

2013 in brief: Appeared in ten June games for the Dodgers, but spent most of the year buried in Albuquerque before returning for a September cameo.

2014 status: Signed a minor league deal in Houston.

******

A+ for the mustache, Peter Moylan. Not so much for everything else, unfortunately.

I should point out right upfront that Moylan shouldn’t be judged simply by that ERA, because as we all know, ERA for relievers means just about nothing. I say that because in Moylan’s first nine games, he had a perfectly fine 2.89 ERA. In his tenth game, Moylan was forced to take one for the team after Chris Capuano lasted only 3.2 innings in an eventual 16-1 loss to Philadelphia, and ended up giving up five runs in two innings, immediately blasting his ERA north of six.

Moylan never really could miss any bats in his time up this year, and he was probably only added because it was May 31 and he had a June 1 opt-out. When you’re pairing that with control issues and homer problems, that’s not usually going to work out well — especially when the once-vaunted groundball ace was giving up nearly 50% flyballs. He was much better with the Isotopes, putting up a 43/19 in 43 innings, but never got another chance until rosters expanded after the Dodger bullpen started to dominate.

It’s too bad that it didn’t work out, because I was pretty excited when they signed him — after all, who wouldn’t love a tattooed Aussie sidearmer who hates Nickelback? Moylan turned 35 in December, and we may have seen his last hurrah, though he did land a minor league deal with the Astros. If for no other reason than that he’s awesome and the team’s going to Australia in March, I wish he was back.

******

Next! Carlos Marmol was a Dodger!

It’s Tanaka Time

December 26, 2013 at 10:24 am | Posted in Masahiro Tanaka | Leave a comment

tanaka_japan_wbcSo, as usual, I go away for a few days, and nothing interesting happened. Or, wait, the other thing: Chris Perez and Jamey Wright are now Dodgers, and other than filling out a backup infielder, the 2014 roster seems pretty much set.

That is, with the possible exception of Masahiro Tanaka, who is now finally posted and free to come to America. This is yesterday’s news, obviously, but there’s only so much writing you can get done while attempting to fly home on Christmas Day.

Now you know the Dodgers will likely have interest, and you know why: adding a pitcher like Tanaka to a rotation that already has Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Dan Haren would just be beyond beastly. It’d cost money — lots of it — but would at least put an end to the speculation about sending Corey Seager, Zach Lee, Joc Pederson, and the legacy of Jackie Robinson to Tampa Bay for David Price.

Frankly, I think the Yankees are the favorite here simply because they need him so badly, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get him. Who knows, really. Perhaps Tanaka prefers to play on the West Coast in order to make travel to Japan easier, and if so, that strongly helps the Dodgers (as well as the Mariners, Angels, etc.) Either way, expect the Dodgers to be tied closely to Tanaka over the next month — especially because Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, also represents Kershaw & Greinke, among others.

As for the specifics, the posting period begins today and runs through 5pm (ET) on Friday, January 24. Remember, this isn’t a “posting” in the way we’ve known it for years thanks to the new agreement; the easiest way to think about it is that Tanaka is a free agent just like anyone else, other than the fact that he’ll come with a $20m tax that has to go to Rakuten.

One interesting wrinkle, however:

That means there isn’t going to be a list of 8 or 12 or 16 or however many teams who qualified to negotiate. It means that all 30 teams can talk to Tanaka, and while not all will do so seriously, it’s going to make the next month a whirlwind. Strap in.

2013 Dodgers in Review #39: RP J.P. Howell

December 25, 2013 at 2:54 pm | Posted in 2013 in Review, J.P. Howell | 1 Comment

90topps_jphowell2.18 ERA / 2.89 FIP 62.0 IP 7.84 K/9 3.34 BB/9 0.7 fWAR (A-)

2013 in brief: Solid reliever out of the pen. Death on lefties and reasonably effective against righties.

2014 status: Signed for two years and $11.25 million with a 2016 vesting option for $6.25 million.

******

Everyone thank Lobo for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Howell. Thanks, Lobo!

Unlike most of the relievers signed by Ned Colletti last offseason, the general reaction to J.P. Howell‘s signing was not so much “Why did Colletti overpay another reliever?” as it was “Well damn, guess that means Paco’s going to Albuquerque.”

The reason? Well mainly because in a market where Randy Choate got a three year deal from St. Louis, Howell’s one year contract at just $2.85 million seemed totally reasonable. But more than that, Howell was a guy who filled a serious need in the Dodger bullpen. With Scott Elbert exhibiting reverse splits (and not throwing a single pitch for the 2013 Dodgers) and Paco Rodriguez being effective but unproven, the team was in dire need of an effective LOOGY. And given that lefties hit just .200/.306/.306 against Howell in 2012, he seemed like a good fit.

Howell ended up getting into 67 games for the Dodgers and was, well, quite good. I know that 0.7 WAR doesn’t seem like much, but only 60 relievers in baseball put up more (and only one Dodger, the otherworldly Kenley Jansen). Oh, he also got a two game suspension for throwing Arizona coach Turner Ward over the dugout railing, but no biggie. In the playoffs he was also effective, with his lone blemish being a solo home run given up to Shane Robinson in Game 4 of the NLCS.

What was great about Howell’s season was that he was that he didn’t pitch like a true LOOGY. In roughly the same number of plate appearances, Howell held lefties to a .161/.225/.227 TSL and righties to a line of .218/.312/.296. For a guy we expected to simply be a straight LOOGY that was a pleasant surprise, and a welcome turnaround from his 2012 when righties hit .242/.340/.456 with 5 homers against him.

Which brings me to the main reason for Howell’s improved performance in 2013, his drastic decrease in HR rate. In 2011 and 2012 combined, J.P. gave up 12 home runs in 81.0 innings, 9 of those coming against right handed hitters, good for a 19.2% HR/FB rate in 2011 and a 17.1% rate in 2012. Meanwhile, in 2013 Howell gave up just 2 longballs in 62 innings, one apiece to righties and lefties, bringing his HR/FB % all the way down to 4.3. So what caused this dramatic decrease in HR rate? Let’s take a look.

The first thing to note here is a slight drop in Howell’s overall FB%, from 31.3% in 2012 to 27.7% in 2013. But that 2013 rate was only slightly less than his 2011 rate of 28.6%, despite giving less than half as many homers in 2013 in double the innings pitched. So his FB rate doesn’t seem to be the likely cause.

So what about the parks? Well Dodger Stadium and Tropicana Field appear roughly equal in their affect on home runs, so I doubt that was the culprit either.

Level of competition? The AL East is known as an offensive juggernaut after all. I’m going to learn towards “no” on this one, as most of Howell’s home runs given up in 2011 and 2012 were to lesser players. Of the 12 home runs he gave up in 2011 and 2012, just 4 were given up to guys who could be considered true home run threats (Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion), with the rest given up to players with middling or non-existent power.

Was he just giving up longer fly balls? Well it’s kind of hard to tell for sure, but looking at the Fangraphs Interactive Spray Chart Tool, it appears that there was no appreciable difference in fly ball distance between Howell’s 2012 and 2013 seasons (there is no data available for the 2011 season). So that’s another possible cause eliminated.

This leaves just one possible explanation, Howell’s sinker. According to Brooks Baseball, Howell used his sinker 42.94% of the time in 2011 and 2012, compared to 58.55% in 2013. On top of that, he increased the velocity on his sinker from 86.82 to 88.05 MPH; in fact, 2013 saw Howell increase the velocity on all of his pitches.

howell_velocity_2010-13

Coupled with the slight decrease in his walk rate, it appears Howell managed to both up his velocity AND improve his control this year, a surefire recipe for success. Furthermore, the sinker is, of course, known as a groundball pitch, so his increased usage of the pitch is a great sign that 2013 results were a result of more than just luck.

So now the question is, can he keep this up? Well, in my opinion at least, the answer is most certainly yes. I was surprised to find out that Howell will only be 31 in April, so there’s a good reason to believe that he can keep up that velocity in 2014 and 2015. And at just about 5.5 million for the next two years, Howell looks to be a solid bullpen arm for at least the length of his new contract.

There’s certainly more evidence that he’ll be effective than there was with League last offseason. And with Rodriguez fading badly down the stretch (to the point of being left off the NLCS roster entirely), a quality lefty arm like Howell is sure to be a valuable addition to the 2014 club. Looks like there’s at least one Amish man who’s keeping up with the times.

******

Next!

2013 Dodgers in Review #38: Shawn Tolleson

December 24, 2013 at 10:27 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Shawn Tolleson | Leave a comment

90topps_shawntolleson0.00 ERA / 9.05 FIP 0.0 IP 0.00 K/9 18.00 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Threw 11 pitches in one April game, then missed the rest of the year due to injury.

2014 status: Shockingly lost to Texas on waivers in November.

******

I’m still on vacation, so forgive the fact that I’m skipping over Jamey Wright. I wrote about him a few weeks ago, anyway.

Every year when I do these season in review pieces, there’s always one or two guys who had about ten seconds of big league exposure and then force me to try to come up with something interesting to say about them. Along with Drew Butera and Onelki Garcia, that honor goes this year to Shawn Tolleson, who walked each of the two batters he faced on April 12 in Arizona and was never heard from again.

Tolleson didn’t make the team out of spring training after dealing with some minor knee pain and a comebacker off his elbow, so he was in Omaha with the rest of the Isotopes on April 11 when Carlos Quentin assaulted Zack Greinke. He flew to Arizona in time to relieve Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning the next night, where he entered with the bases loaded… and promptly walked both Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt, scoring two. (Both of which went against Kershaw’s ledger, of course.)

The next day, he went on the disabled list with what was thought to be a lower back strain, but two weeks later we learned he’d need to undergo surgery, and it turned out that the back had been sore before he entered the game:

“It was kind of tight all day, and tight when I was warming up. I wasn’t worried about it when I was pitching, I was just trying to throw strikes,” Tolleson said when he was placed on the DL. “But when I came out of the game it just really tightened up on me.”

Tolleson couldn’t sleep that night because of pain in his back, and told trainers the next morning.

He started playing catch in June and got into single games for the rookie league Arizona Dodgers on August 11 and Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on August 14, but injured his left hip during rehab and was shut down for the season.

It’s unfortunate, really, because Tolleson has shown a real ability to miss bats in the minors, but a near equal inability to stay healthy. Maybe that’s why the Dodgers attempted to sneak him through waivers in November, and when it didn’t work, well, none of us quite understood why:

I don’t get it. I really don’t. And since I’m in a coffee shop far from home, perhaps there’s been some good explanation I’ve missed. I sure hope so, because otherwise, the Dodgers just allowed a talented young reliever who piled up strikeouts and grounders get claimed on waivers by Texas for what seems to be no good reason.

With 8 empty roster spots, space isn’t an issue. Yes, they need to add a few minor leaguers today. No, it won’t be 8, and even if it was, Justin Sellers & Javy Guerra exist.

A month later, the 40-man roster is only now about to be full, and we haven’t yet heard a valid explanation. Maybe he really is more seriously injured than we know, but still: Odd.

******

Next! J.P. Howell finds a home!

Of Course It’s Chris Perez

December 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Posted in Chris Perez | Leave a comment

Earlier this month, I looked at available free agent pichers and all but guaranteed that one from this list would be a Dodger:

John Axford
Fernando Rodney
Grant Balfour
Chris Perez
Kevin Gregg
Joaquin Benoit
Jose Veras

I also said “the declining Perez scares me in every way,” so yeah, of course it’s Perez who the Dodgers have reportedly signed. I’m on vacation — obviously, because a move happened — so I’m not going to delve into this deeply, and instead point you to Chad Moriyama‘s take:

When I informed my dad of this signing, he remarked, “Well, at least it’s not Jamey Wright.” Initially I agreed, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as I thought, and Wright has actually been superior the past two years.

I don’t care that Perez and his wife smoke weed, I DO care that he was dumb/goofy enough to: 1) order weed from the mail 2) address it to his dog. Also, the fact that he’s sortof nuts/dumb will either be awesome or horrible, or both. Hopefully him being out of Cleveland will mean he stops whining about management when he was part of the problem and not the answer. I do, however, hope he continues to projectile vomit after innings.

Yep. The good news is that it’s really, really difficult to have a bad one-year contract — obviously we don’t know the terms yet, of course — but I’m not sure there’s a better poster boy for “saves are overrated” than Perez. Without saves, he’s merely and okay reliever. With them, he’s going to get paid a whole lot more than he deserves.

This also pretty much puts an end to the 2014 bullpen shopping, I’d guess:

CL – Kenley Jansen
RH – Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League, Chris Withrow
LH – J.P. Howell, Paco Rodriguez

Right there, that’s seven relievers, and this could arguably be the Opening Day bullpen. (Sorry, Seth Rosin!) Of course, Rodriguez and Withrow still have options, so bad springs could… well, I don’t want to talk about that.

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