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March 22, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL West

Value Over Replacement Fluff

by Geoff Young

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The big news out of Giants camp: Tim Lincecum likes cheeseburgers. Also, there is a Brazilian cab driver who kind of looks like him.

Yep, we've reached that part of spring training where boredom sets in and everyone just wants meaningful games. The signs are unmistakable and take the form of fluff pieces in the news.

To help us make sense of it all, I've created VORF, or Value Over Replacement Fluff. The scale is arbitrary, subject to this writer's whim. Your mileage may vary:

Item

VORF

Comment

Tim Lincecum eats cheeseburgers

3.0

Everyone is talking about it; must be important

Brazilian cabbie looks like Lincecum

2.7

Not even about a baseball player

Darren Dreifort threw in Dodgers camp

2.5

Last seen driving a cab in Brazil

Jay Gibbons got new contact lenses

2.2

Now he can tell the difference between Lincecum and Dreifort

Davey Lopes is bringing "Dodger Way" back to organization

2.0

Why did he take it in the first place?

Matt Lindstrom is working on a changeup

1.9

Hooray, a new pitch!

Dexter Fowler plans to bunt more

1.6

Probably a good idea

Chris Iannetta needs to be more of a leader

1.4

"Hey, Fowler! Bunt more."

John Maine is competitive

1.1

Could be useful in his line of work

Hiroki Kuroda donates money to Japan relief effort

-1.0

Too much substance; in all seriousness, kudos to Kuroda

* * *

Speaking of Maine, he's competing—in theory, anyway—for the Rockies' fifth starter slot. Maine and Greg Reynolds remain in the mix, but both have fallen behind Esmil Rogers, who faced the minimum 15 batters in five innings against the Cubs on Tuesday (Christina Kahrl was there and liked what she saw of Rogers' curve). Rogers needed just 60 pitches, which doubtless pleases an organization that has expressed a commitment to greater efficiency this season.

In his next start, against the Angels on Sunday, Rogers struggled. He cruised through the first three innings and then got hit hard in subsequent turns through the lineup, eventually being charged with six runs in five innings. Compare the first three innings with the final two (plus three batters):

Inn

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

1-3

9

1

0

0

0

1

2

4-6

13

7

1

1

1

1

0

The strikeouts—both looking—came in the first inning. The walks were to opposing starter Matt Palmer and the last batter he faced, Alberto Callapso. The latter came after a Torii Hunter home run and a Vernon Wells single to start the sixth.

In addition to remaining effective deep into games, one area in which Rogers will need to improve if he is to remain a starter is against left-handed hitters. In an admittedly limited sample at the big-league level, lefties have hit .363/.411/.481 against him, while righties have hit .276/.349/.420. That's roughly the difference between Joe Mauer and Orlando Hudson. It's also fewer than 200 plate appearances against each side, so it is best not to get too hung up on that just yet.

Maine and Reynolds, for their part, are trying to stay healthy and (re-)establish themselves as big-league pitchers. Once upon a time, Maine was a promising young pitcher, but injuries and command issues have derailed his career. As for Reynolds, we covered him in this space last week.

* * *

Meanwhile, all is not well at the back of the Padres rotation. Right-hander Tim Stauffer sustained a right hip flexor injury while breaking to cover first base in a start last week. The injury kept him from making his scheduled start on Friday, but Stauffer says he's "not worried" and he "could have pitched with it" if this were the regular season—just what you would expect him to say.

Southpaw Wade LeBlanc, the leading candidate for the fifth starters' job, continues to have trouble getting hitters out. He allowed six earned runs on three homers in five innings against the Angels last Tuesday. Afterward, LeBlanc focused on his success at working the fastball in on right-handed batters. On the downside, two of the three home runs he allowed came on changeups—his best pitch.

On Sunday against the Mariners, LeBlanc fared better, allowing three runs in six innings. Black praised his changeup and effectiveness working inside with the fastball.

An intriguing possibility—not that anyone other than me is considering it—would be to platoon LeBlanc and Dustin Moseley in the fifth spot depending on whether the game is at home or on the road. LeBlanc has had a miserable time away from Petco Park during his brief big-league tenure:

 

IP

ERA

BA

OBP

SLG

HR/9

BB/9

SO/9

Home

104.1

2.67

.239

.309

.386

1.12

3.28

7.33

Away

109.1

6.26

.297

.371

.551

1.98

3.87

5.68

At Petco Park, LeBlanc turns hitters into Brandon Inge. Elsewhere, he turns them into David Ortiz (and not even the version of Ortiz that hits like Inge).

* * *

In a recurring theme, one of the few remaining battles for the Dodgers is between potential fifth starters John Ely and Tim Redding. The battle is entirely too exciting for words, but we'll give it a go anyway.

It's possible, and perhaps even likely, that the Dodgers will open the season with neither Ely nor Redding in the rotation. With two off days in the season's first eight days, Don Mattingly could opt to use the roster spot on an extra relief pitcher. Jon Garland won't be ready to go by the time they need another starter, but with luck, his DL stint will be short enough that Ely or Redding is called upon once or twice at most.

Another solution, depending on the severity of Garland's injury, would be to take the Johnny Wholestaff approach and give four or five guys two innings each. As a short-term fix, it probably isn't much worse than Ely or Redding.

* * *

The Diamondbacks weathered a scare over the weekend when Justin Upton "jammed" his right knee while running down a fly ball off the bat of Oakland's Eric Sogard. Upton was removed from Sunday's contest for precautionary reasons, and everyone is saying it's nothing serious. Still, when a guy who is owed more than $50 million over the next five years "jams" anything, it's got to put a little fear into the hearts of management and fans alike—at least, more so than his cheeseburger-eating habits, anyway.

Related Content:  Esmil Rogers

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