The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, June 02, 2006

 

Back In Blue

The thing about Barry Bonds that I absolutely hate so much I want to chew out his eyeballs... oh, wait, we're retiring that meme for another 39 home runs. Rats...

Instead I'll turn my attention to a team I haven't had much time to write about this year, the Dodgers. I did a little thing on them for today's Prospectus Notebook. They're currently 31-23, a half-game out of first place in the surprisingly strong NL West, where all five teams are above .500; recall that last year, the Padres won the division with an 82-80 record while everybody else finished below .500. What a difference a year makes.

I was surprised to find that the Dodgers -- despite all their injures, the latest of which claimed Jeff Kent -- are leading the NL in scoring (5.49 runs per game; all stats through Wednesday), On Base Percentage (.359), Equivalent Average (.276) and run differential (+61). One of the keys has been the contributions of their rookies, particularly catcher Russell Martin (.253/.345/.387 after a slump), Willy Aybar (.327/.448/.491, reprising his hot cup of coffee last September), Andre Ethier (.324/.395/.577 for the bounty of the Milton Bradley trade) and Jonathan Broxton (16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 11.25 K/9). My notebook piece focused on what they'd done and where they fit in with the team's future.

One interesting facet that I neglected to mention is that of that quartet, only Aybar has more than about a month of Triple-A experience. That speaks to how little was expected of them this year, and it also points to one thing I've been harping upon: the team needs to get its Triple-A club out of Las Vegas, because the Coors Field-type environment does their prospects no favors. Paul DePodesta aside, the Dodgers never appear to have been particularly savvy when it comes to sabermetrics; even the basics of adjusting for park have seemed beyond them when it comes to a legacy of failed prospects who put up hot stats in Albuquerque (Greg Brock, Franklin Stubbs... don't even get me started). As it is, the crown jewel of the system, pitcher Chad Billingsley, is faring reasonably well in Vegas. He's got a 4.22 ERA but has struck out 68 hitters in 59.2 innings, while allowing just seven homers. That's pretty impressive, considering how often balls fly out of the yard.

Watching a bit of the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Phillies last night, I got glimpses of two more of their vaunted rookies, neither of whom I could squeeze into the piece before it ran. Matt Kemp, up from Double-A since the weekend, pounded his first major-league home run in the second inning, a shot off the leftfield foul pole. That was just before I tuned in, but I did see the highlights several times. Later in the game, Joel Guzman (promoted that day to replace Kent on the roster) made his major-league debut, grounding into a double play in his only at-bat. Guzman, a 6'6" behemoth, was converted from shortstop to leftfield this spring, and some of the shine has come off of his prospect status. Lately, the team has been trying him out at third base and first, two positions he's dabbled at in winter ball and in the minors. He'll see some time at the hot corner, with Aybar, who had been subbing for Bill Mueller, shifting over to second. That could mean a team with as many as five rookies among their eight position players.

All in all, it's an impressive troupe that's quickly making the Dodgers one of the best stories of the season. It's possible that the crown jewel, pitcher Chad Billingsley, will get his shot soon as well. New GM Ned Colletti will get the credit if they win, just like Paul DePodesta got credit for winning in 2004 with a team largely built by his predecessor, Dan Evans. But the real star is Logan White, the team's Director of Amateur Scouting. Aside from Ethier, who came from the A's system, these rookies are his babies.

Not that Colletti's job should be overlooked. He's gotten some stellar contributions from a few of the free agents he signed over the winter. Not so much from others, but none of them broke the bank:
                   AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA   VORP
Rafael Furcal .260 .339 .335 .246 2.3
Nomar Garciaparra .360 .421 .625 .336 20.6 (#1 on team)
Kenny Lofton .312 .377 .420 .289 12.5 (#2 on team)
Bill Mueller .252 .357 .402 .268 1.5

IP ERA SNLVAR VORP
Brett Tomko 63.7 4.38 0.9 5.2
Aaron Sele 32.7 2.20 1.4 13.3 (#3 on team)
Yes, that's the official Yankee whipping boy, Aaron Sele. In the latest sign of the apocalypse, he's given the Dodgers six straight quality starts and a microscopic ERA. It probably won't last -- we're talking about a guy whose past three ERAs are 5.77, 5.05, and 5.66 -- but he's given the team a big boost while Odalis Perez has earned a trip to the bullpen.

Some late info pertinent to the injury situations which put these rookies on the hot seat comes from the team's official site:
More injury update: [Manager Grady] Little said Mueller is healing "slowly" from May 16 right knee surgery, which can be interpreted to mean the five-week prognosis for his return might have been overly optimistic. Mueller, 35, has had three operations on that knee. Mueller, who has been recovering at home in Arizona, is scheduled to have the knee evaluated by Dodgers doctors Friday.

Catcher Dioner Navarro began hitting off a tee Thursday with his healing bruised right wrist, but outfielder Ricky Ledee had a "setback" with his pulled groin muscle and will receive a cortisone injection Friday. Jason Repko still has a sprained ankle in a cast, so he's probably a month away. And Little said there was nothing new with Werth. "
The biggest injury-related news for the Dodgers yesterday, bigger than Kent even, was the activation of Eric Gagne. He didn't pitch, but when Tim Hamaluck began frittering away the team's 7-0 lead in the ninth, the goggled one began warming up, and you could see that the focus of the remaining fans shifted from the field to the bullpen. Nobody knows what Gagne has in store after 16 months of elbow woes that included two surgeries and just 13.1 innings pitched, but it was a true blue goosebump moment nonetheless, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Back (I hope) with something on the Yanks tomorrrow...

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