2013 Dodgers in Review #46: RP Javy Guerra

January 3, 2014 at 10:25 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Javy Guerra | Leave a comment

90topps_javyguerra

6.75 ERA / 3.99 FIP / 10.2 IP 10.13 K/9 5.06 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Made it into just nine May games for the Dodgers before getting buried in Albuquerque, never to be seen again.

2014 status: Likely to get real familiar with New Mexico, though he is without a remaining option.

Previous: 2011 | 2012

******

Everyone thank Kyle MacGregor for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Guerra. Thanks, Kyle.

Javy Guerra’s season reminds me a lot of the last Transformers movie. I know saw it, but I honestly don’t recall a single memorable moment that occurred throughout the entire thing. I can’t conjure any more hazy memories of Guerra taking the field with the words “Los Angeles” scrawled across his chest in 2013 than I can of the time I escaped the womb and tobogganed into the world.

He didn’t make the Opening Day roster. That was mostly due to the fact Ned Colletti spent the winter collecting pitchers like they’re Pokémon cards, which inevitably pushed surplus starters into the bullpen to start the year. Javy was eventually recalled on May 1, after Josh Wall was used as a sacrificial lamb at Coors Field in a distressing 62 pitch appearance.

Guerra proceeded to pitch 10.2 forgettable big league innings that were well worth forgetting. The former closer was all over the place, mixing in fair number of strikeouts (12) alongside way too many walks (6) and hits (15!). The results speak for themselves, but, still, that 1.99 WHIP is pretty gross.

It may not have been entirely his fault, though. Looking at that 3.99 FIP, a .400 BABIP, and the fact the Dodger defense was all kinds of atrocious in the early going; I’m inclined to believe he was just a tad unlucky. The team was in such a malaise during Javy’s time in Los Angeles. The Dodgers dropped an embarrassing 16 of 25 games between Guerra’s decent first appearance against the Rockies and lackluster final game in Anaheim. So, while he was still a far cry from good, to put it mildly, I’ll cut him a little slack. There was plenty of blame to go around in May.

Guerra was sent to the glue factory of Albuquerque on May 31, in part because of Peter Moylan’s impending opt-out clause, but also because he was kind of terrible. He didn’t fare much better in the Rocky Mountain air, posting a 3.66 ERA with a 4.57 FIP for the Isotopes on the year, whilst being unusually homer-prone.

Javy struggled mightily at the end of the AAA season, where he was pushed around to the tune of a .405 BAA in his final ten appearances. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but he didn’t receive an invite to join the Dodgers when rosters expanded in September.

Something tells me the trajectory of Guerra’s career isn’t going in the direction he’d hoped. Following his breakout (but totally unsustainable) season in 2011, he gave us a lot of heartburn in 2012 after a Brian McCann liner rearranged the contents of his skull (and injured his knee). Since then, he’s showed some of the promise that landed him a closer’s job along with plenty of awful.

I’m not sure the Pacific Coast League is the best place for a guy on the slide looking to rebuild confidence and his career, but that’s where Guerra figures to be for the foreseeable future.

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2013 Dodgers in Review #45: RP Brian Wilson

January 2, 2014 at 11:00 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Brian Wilson | Leave a comment

90topps_brianwilson0.66 ERA / 2.52 FIP 13.2 IP 8.56 K/9 2.63 BB/9 (B)

2013 in review: Lottery ticket signing ended up becoming team’s primary setup man.

2014 status: Re-signed for $10m.

******

Everyone thank Amy (@SpaceDodgersfor pitching in with a great job on reviewing Wilson. Thanks Amy!

Hey, remember Mike on July 29th, 2013?

Now before we discuss the merits of [signing Brian Wilson], we probably should discuss the elephant in the room: you hate him. Of course you do. He was a Giant, and not only was he a Giant, he was a huge part of their 2010 World Series title, even getting the final out. He’s a big weirdo with a giant, annoying, beard. He got into that thing with Casey Blake. He was in those tremendously irritating “Black Ops” Taco Bell ads. If Taco Bell was a place I would ever go to eat, ever, those ads would be enough to put a stop to that. I’M BLACK OPS.

If there’s such a thing as “good and evil” in the Dodgers / Giants rivalry these days, Wilson is probably the defining face of it.

And then, not so very long ago

Brian Wilson will return to the Dodgers for $10m in 2014. He also has a player option for 2015, reportedly between $9m and $10m depending on appearances.

At first glance, I’m relatively pleased with this. I think.

Brian Wilson has transformed from weird, hated Giant into a Dodger goofball whose two-year contract was met with an aggregate, easeful indifference. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. After signing Wilson to a $1m major league deal that would start in the minors until the end of the season, this seemed to be a pretty good idea. If Wilson was horrible, what was $1 million to multimillionaires? If Wilson was at least productive, then the signing was a steal. The signing turned out to be an absolute steal, for an incredibly small sample size.

In 13.2 innings pitched, Brian Wilson faced 49 batters, averaged 8.6 strikeouts, 2.6 walks, and 5.4 hits over nine innings. He struck out 13 batters in the regular season, and 7 of those were looking; of his 8 postseason strikeouts, 4 batters struck out looking (yes, I went back and counted). During the post season, Wilson faced 24 batters, posted a K/9, BB/9, and H/9 of 12, 3, and 6 respectively.

So I’m going to declare it here and let’s keep it in mind for the rest of this review: everything should be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample size we’re dealing with.  In fact, the only statistic that has had a chance to stabilize is his strikeout rate, and only if we combine his regular and postseason statistics. Also, ignore all credit given on behalf of that incredibly shiny 0.66 ERA, since ERA for relievers is absolute rubbish, and even more so with small sample sizes.

Since Wilson’s strikeout rate only stabilizes if we include his postseason stats, let’s calculate his combined K/9 real quick.  Nevertheless, also keep in mind that, while “stable,” the numbers should still be accepted hesitantly. The last four stats in the following table quantify the looking and swinging strikeouts.

wilson_stats

Now, that said… Mike has said a bit about Brian Wilson’s success and has shown that there’s reason to be optimistic.

 …His velocity isn’t quite up to pre-surgery levels, but it was clearly trending in the right direction and allowed him to touch 96 at times. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his strikeouts increased along with it; in his first 10.1 innings, he struck out eight, while in his final 9.1 (including playoffs) he whiffed 13. Again, small samples and all that, but encouraging. He also walked only six, which is good not only because control is often the toughest thing to regain after surgery, but because he’d often had problems with that even at his best.

And our good friend, Grant Brisbee, wasn’t particularly pleased that the Giants missed out on Wilson during the NLCS,

Second, it’s annoying watching Brian Wilson in the postseason. Not because he looks like a piece of steel wool in a fight with a raccoon, but because he’s pitching like the guy we remember. … I’m talking about the 2010 version, who was pretty swell. One of the better relievers in Giants history, to be honest. The 2013 version doesn’t have as much heat, but he has the command, which is probably as important.

It turns out, that his command has improved, when compared to his 2011 regular and 2010 postseason, which is very encouraging. However, it’s not exactly the command he displayed in the 2009 and 2010 regular seasons.

The problem with percentages here is that we’re not seeing how many pitches he’s thrown. Namely, pointing out that 65% of 311 pitches land outside of the zone isn’t quite the same as 69% of 1,028 pitches. These are also his 2013 and 2011 season percentages via Brooks Baseball, respectively. So it is important to show the number of pitches thrown for each month to put those percentages into perspective.

But realistically, the number of pitches thrown outside of the zone doesn’t matter if the pitch results in a swing and miss; depending on your source, your perspective on his swing and miss ratio may vary. According to baseball-reference, Wilson posted a career high swinging strike ratio (without contact) at 18%.  Meanwhile FanGraphs has him around league average at 9.2%, which is not a career high.

To stay consistent with my source, I’m going to use Brooks Baseball’s swing and miss information.  FanGraphs defines “whiff” as percentage of swing and misses per swing. Brooks Baseball seems to interpret whiff rate as the percentage of swings that miss, explicitly distinguishing it from “Whiffs/Swing.” In this review, I use “whiff” in the same sense that Brooks Baseball does.

Brooks Baseball’s graph for Wilson’s whiff rate in and out of the zone for both the regular and postseasons is below, but does not describe the combined total swing and miss ratio.

From this graph, it is clear that Wilson is at a career high for getting batters to swing and miss on pitches inside the strike zone with 15.45% and averaged 7.96% whiffs outside of the strike zone. These final three images, in order, display Wilson’s pitch location frequency, swing rates, and whiff rates. The color indicates the frequency: bright red for high frequency and bright blue for low frequency. Darker shades show a relative median frequency.

In Figure 1 we see that Wilson liked to pitch outside, something that is already established so far. When Wilson actually did pitch inside the strike zone, we see that he tended to hit the lower quadrants. Figure 2 shows that batters swung when the pitch was in the strike zone. However, the swing frequency in the top half of the strike zone indicates that, on the rare occasion Wilson pitched there, batters swung. Furthermore, Figure 3 demonstrates that batters missed when they swung at pitches in the strike zone’s upper quadrants.

The pitch frequency along the sides in Figure 1 should be expected, since Mike already talked about Wilson’s more frequent use of his cutter. Nevertheless, the lack of whiffs in the lower half of the strike zone implies that most batted balls were hit in the lower half. Also, those pitches along the right side of Figure 1 indicate that Wilson should have walked more batters than he did, especially since batters almost never swung when his pitches landed there. Again, small sample size applies here, because his batted ball and walk ratio data is not stable.

But this raises a question: how does one pitch outside of the strike zone an average of 65% of the time, have a 52% strikeout looking rate (L/SO%), while getting most batters to swing inside the strike zone and most whiffs in areas he almost never pitched? Where do those pitches that strike batters out looking land? There is a chance that those pitches land in the bottom quadrants of the strike zone, but given his pitch location frequency and low walk rate, it’s more likely that most of those looking strikeouts were generously given.

The velocity and control Wilson has displayed so far is encouraging, but the fact that he struck out more batters looking than swinging should be a red flag to everybody.  Why?  Because that’s an indicator that the human element of the game blessed upon us by the home-plate umpire has played it’s part in Wilson’s success, and that’s not reliable.

Therefore, while Wilson’s post-surgery successes so far deserves high praise, the questionable data yielded on behalf of the provisionally small sample-size drops his grade from the popular A+ that many expected, to a B.

******

Next! Javy Guerra existed!

2013 Dodgers in Review #44: RP Jose Dominguez

January 1, 2014 at 10:56 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Jose Dominguez | Leave a comment

90topps_josedominguez2.16 ERA / 3.53 FIP  9.1 IP 4.32 K/9 3.24 BB/9 (inc.)

2013 in brief: Somewhat surprisingly recalled in late June, showed more potential than production before a July quad injury that was supposed to shelve him for only two weeks took the rest of his season.

2014 status: Likely to split time between Los Angeles & Albuquerque.

******

You know, you’d think I’d have more to say about Jose Dominguez after a season in which he surprisingly made his big league debut in June. But then again, after a season-opening suspension in the minors and a season-ending quad injury that just never seemed to heal, Dominguez only did pitch 33.2 professional innings this year.

We were excited when he got recalled, anyway:

Dominguez, 23 in August, is known nearly as much for the two drug-related suspensions that have cost him time (50 games in 2010, 25 this year) as he is for the fastball that has been known to reach 103 miles per hour. In 2010, Dominguez tested positive for Stanozolol; it’s unknown what tripped him up this year, but it’s not thought to be a PED since he didn’t get popped for 100 games. (Most likely, it was failure to comply with a procedural issue related to his treatment or initial suspension.)

In 283.1 minor league innings, Dominguez has struck out 312; in 25.1 innings this year between Chattanooga & Albuquerque, he’s whiffed 40. I liked having Moylan around, but I’m excited to see what an arm like Dominguez can do.

The much-discussed heat was no mirage — in his time in the bigs, Dominguez averaged 98.5 MPH on his fastball. But despite that and the big strikeout numbers in the minors, it didn’t translate into missed bats in the bigs, because Dominguez whiffed only four of the 39 hitters he faced. Obviously, speed alone doesn’t work in the big leagues, and nearly 80% of Dominguez’ pitches were fastball. While I’m certainly not putting too much importance on 39 plate appearances from a guy that young, it’s something he’ll need to work on.

On July 22, Dominguez left a game in Toronto with what was at the time thought to be a minor quad injury. The very next day, Ken Gurnick reported that Dominguez was able to throw “with no discomfort,” but he was still placed on the disabled list to make room for the arrival of Carlos Marmol. Three days later, Dodgers.com reported that he was expected to miss the minimum 15 days. But somehow, we never saw him again, not even when rosters expanded in September, and he didn’t even manage to make any rehab appearances.

Still only heading into his age-23 season, Dominguez should have a bright future ahead of him. That said, between the limited amount of time he managed in 2013, the addition of so many veteran relievers, and the fact that he has options remaining, he’s all but certain to start 2014 in Triple-A. It’s probably safe to say we’ll see him again at some point.

******

Next! Was Brian Wilson as good as you think?

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!

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Next! J.P. Howell finds a home!

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