May 10, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL West
Everybody Got Problems
Andre Ethier saw his 30-game hitting streak come to an end with an 0-for-4 performance against the Mets on May 7 at Citi Field. Ethier's streak gave fans something positive to focus on for a while, providing respite from the ongoing McCourt/Selig saga and the club's 16-19 record.
Ethier's streak was the second-longest in Dodgers history, behind Willie Davis' 31-game streak that ran from August 1 to September 3, 1969. Ethier also joins an exclusive club of players who hit in at least 30 straight games and amassed 20 or more strikeouts during that stretch:
The 30/20 club
I don't know which is more shocking to me: that Davis ever had a 30-game hitting streak or that he ever played for the Orioles. The other thing I love about this list is that Santiago started his hitting streak the same day that Molitor ended his. If you stuck those two together, you'd have a 73-game hitting streak... and one freaky looking dude.
Back to the present-day Dodgers, we've been beating the two-man offense meme to death, but with good reason. Aside from the injured Casey Blake, the only hitter other than Ethier or Matt Kemp doing anything is Jamey Carroll and... well, he is Jamey Carroll.
Jerry Sands is looking very much like the Dodgers' version of Brandon Belt. Both are fine young hitters who struggled in their initial big-league trials despite excellent minor-league track records. It will be interesting to see whether the Dodgers give Sands more rope than the Giants gave Belt.
With the Rockies apparently returning to the pack, the pressure on teams behind them to find answers to problems sooner rather than later intensifies. Patience with kids is a wonderful philosophy, but the ability to practice it is a luxury not everyone can afford.
The Dodgers own the NL's second worst run differential (ahead of only the Astros) and need a lot to go right to change their fortunes. The rotation has been decent, but it was expected to be more than that. The bullpen–was it really so long ago that Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo looked like one of the best lefty/righty combos around?–has been considerably less.
It's hard to know what to make of this team. The pitching should be better than it has been. So should every hitter not named Ethier or Kemp. So should the ownership situation. It will be sad if a 30-game hitting streak turns out to be the season's highlight.
* * *
Meanwhile, Steven Goldman acknowledges the sobering fact that Emmanuel Burriss might be a better option at shortstop for the Giants than the struggling Miguel Tejada. As we mentioned last week, with Pablo Sandoval out of action, Tejada moves to third base, where his anemic bat looks that much more anemic, but his glove is that much easier to hide.
Deciding where to put a guy hitting .195/.230/.263 probably wasn't on anyone's to-do list on the heels of a World Series title, but as a wise man once said, it's such a fine line between stupid and clever. Where the Padres' acquisition of a revitalized Tejada last summer seemed inspired (and even then, more so in retrospect than at the time), the Giants' signing of the one-time AL MVP inspired something less than enthusiasm among pundits.
In fairness to said pundits, it wasn't a particularly shrewd signing. At the same time, even they couldn't have seen this coming. Tejada's biggest selling point right now is that he probably is a better defender at third base than Russ Ortiz.
On the bright side, Mike Fontenot is raking like it's 2008 while filling in at shortstop, thus obviating the need for Burriss. On the even brighter side, the Giants spent the weekend at home sweeping Colorado and unleashing the fury of Ryan Vogelsong.
Because if there's one thing a defending champion needs, it's the occasional unleashing of fury. A dash of Vogelsong to go along with heaping tablespoons of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez will make the lumpy bits of Tejada and Aubrey Huff go down a little smoother.
And as everyone learned last year, if the Giants stay within striking distance, that pitching staff can carry those hitters on their backs for weeks at a time. It's a nice luxury to have.
* * *
Kelly Johnson's expanding strike zone
This can't be the progression Arizona was expecting (or hoping) to see. Johnson is young enough to turn his season and career around, but the deterioration of multiple skills at once is hardly encouraging. And it's not like he would be the first former Braves second baseman to fall apart before turning 30.
Meanwhile, in the “I don't know what to do with this but it seems worth watching” department (I seriously need a catchier phrase), Diamondbacks hitters come alive the third time they face the opposing starting pitcher:
This may or may not mean anything, but it caught my eye. No team in MLB has a higher SLG in their third trip to the plate against the starter. Miguel Montero, Chris Young, and Justin Upton have done the most damage in those plate appearances.
Upton in particular has made a habit of abusing starters once he has gotten comfortable:
Justin Upton career
Even if this is nothing more than cool, at least it's that much.
* * *
In San Diego, the Padres continue to falter at home. This is nothing new and has been a topic of discussion since shortly after they moved to Petco Park in 2004. Consider the following:
Home vs away winning percentage, 2004 – 2011
I haven't run numbers for all teams, but that seems like a big discrepancy (a yearly breakdown is available at my blog). We see a similar, albeit less extreme, trend in terms of run scoring:
Runs per game home and away, 2004 – 2011
The effect is subtle, but we are talking about nearly 600 games each at home and away for the Padres during this period (and a shade more than 17,500 games in MLB), so it isn't a mirage. How the club addresses this issue remains an open question. Suggestions offered include but are not limited to:
Whatever the Padres end up doing, soon would be good. By going 3-3 on their most recent homestand (against the Pirates and Diamondbacks), they improvedtheir record at Petco Park to 7-14. All three wins were by one run and came by curious means:
* * *
One of the Rockies' stated goals entering the 2011 season was greater efficiency from its starting pitchers. How have they done thus far?
*Games started only
And here is how Colorado's primary starters fared in 2010:
*Games started only
The numbers look suspiciously similar. Rockies starters have been a tad less efficient so far in 2011, although the difference is small enough that it could be noise.
On an individual level, among returnees, Hammel and de la Rosa have stayed about the same, while Jimenez has slipped (not surprisingly—so has the rest of his game). The one pitcher who has made considerable gains is Chacin.
And of course Cook, whose low strikeout totals keep his pitch count down, has yet to pitch this year. This leads to another question, one beyond the scope of today's discussion but which bears considering: to what degree is Colorado's goal of greater efficiency one worth attaining?
On the one hand, you'd like to see your starters work deep into games to avoid overtaxing the bullpen. On the other, you'd like to see them put the ball past hitters; if improving efficiency comes at the cost of low strikeout totals, where is the threshold beyond which reducing the number of pitches ceases to be a useful goal?