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July 12, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL West

The Dodgers Were Not Built to Wait Until Next Year

by Geoff Young

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The Dodgers have a problem. Hello, understatement. This is a team that, at the All-Star break, finds itself in fourth place (was last place before a weekend sweep at home against the equally hapless Padres) in the NL West, 11 games out of first. The Dodgers own the seventh-worst record in baseball and are ill-poised to make a second-half run.

Ownership and attendance issues aside—and it really is impossible to brush these aside, but my strong preference is to discuss baseball—the Dodgers are sinking fast. The last time they sniffed .500 was on May 2, after a 5-2 victory at home over the Cubs. Four consecutive losses later, the free fall was in full effect.

Still, at the end of May, the Dodgers held a share of third place and sat a mere 4 ½ games out of first. Since then, the situation has soured:

NL West: June 1 – July 10, 2011

Team

W

L

Pct

GB

RS

RA

SFG

23

15

.605

145

129

ARI

19

18

.514

3.5

156

166

COL

18

19

.486

4.5

154

171

SDP

16

21

.432

6.5

117

126

LAD

15

21

.417

7.0

138

144

This looked even worse for the Dodgers a few days ago, before they won four straight and the Padres lost five in a row to close the season's first half. The saving grace (or perhaps the damning curse, in the sense that it keeps any team from embarking upon a decisive course) is that nobody seems to want the division title. But even with the indifference at the top, it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Dodgers (or Padres) become a threat to anything other than themselves.

This past winter, the Dodgers spent nearly $58 million to sign and retain free agents—mostly mediocre thirtysomethings. They owe Matt Guerrier and Juan Uribe a combined $33 million through 2013. (They owe Marquis Grissom—who hasn't played for the Dodgers since 2002 or for anyone since 2005—a shade more than $2.7 million, but that’s another story.) The trouble is that Guerrier (4.10 ERA, 4.70 SIERA) has given no indication that he can help a contender down the stretch. Neither has Uribe (.207/.273/.306, .209 TAv), which means that whomever rescues Los Angeles from the McCourts will continue to “benefit” from their services for the next couple of years.

Other available parts have minimal value. Rod Barajas could be useful in a “better than Chris Stewart” kind of way. Casey Blake might fetch something, although it won't be Carlos Santana. Rafael Furcal and Tony Gwynn Jr. figure to bring even less.

On the pitching side, Hiroki Kuroda is enjoying a fine season. Presumably the Dodgers could get something in return for his services... assuming they can convince him to waive his full no-trade clause. Jon Garland? He is no stranger to deadline deals, having been traded from the Cubs to the White Sox for Matt Karchner in July 1998 and again from Arizona to the Dodgers in August 2009 for Tony Abreu. Garland normally would be a marketable commodity due to his reliability—he made no fewer than 32 starts in a season every year from 2002 to 2010. Unfortunately, he has spent much of 2011 on the disabled list, which puts a damper on the plan.

Even if the Dodgers succeed in moving the veterans, who will take their place? Which young players are part of the solution in Los Angeles?

Matt Kemp is 26 years old and obscenely talented. The same description also applies to 23-year-old Clayton Kershaw. But what’s after those two? James Loney is in his prime and hits well for a shortstop, which would be fantastic if not for the fact that he plays first base. Andre Ethier is solid, with occasional bouts of greatness. He doesn't become eligible for free agency until 2013, and many teams that are on more stable financial ground would consider offering him a long-term contract right about now. However, Ethier appears to have had one foot out the door since spring training and may see the other soon follow.

Chad Billingsley? Only two months older than Kemp, he should be a star but isn't. Through his age-23 campaign, Billingsley's numbers bore strong resemblance to those of Carlos Zambrano, Jair Jurrjens, and Mark Prior. Since then, the results have been far more pedestrian, with performances more in line with those of Garland or San Francisco's Barry Zito.

Billingsley is younger than Garland and Zito. He also strikes out more batters, which gives hope that may or may not be justified. It is easy to fall in love with a pitcher's peripheral numbers and confuse them with actual production.

Once upon a time, I had a thing for Shane Reynolds. A part of me still believes that he is this close to a breakout campaign. (Never mind that Reynolds is 43 years old and hasn't pitched since Grissom roamed the earth. Hey, it could happen... look at Dave Stieb.)

Another peripheralphile favorite over the years has been Javier Vazquez. If nothing else, he racks up the strikeouts. (The author checks to see precisely how many and is appalled to discover that Vazquez is the active career leader in strikeouts. How very wrong.) You know who's done a pretty good Vazquez impression the past 3 years? You should, because I foreshadowed it with that long discussion on Billingsley up there:

Billingsley vs. Vazquez, 2009 –  2011

Player

GS

IP

ERA

ERA+

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

Billingsley

82

504.1

3.82

100

8.3

0.6

3.6

8.0

Vazquez

76

473.0

4.17

99

8.5

1.3

2.7

8.1

Billingsley lacks Vazquez's control, but does a better job keeping the ball in the park. Still, one doesn't expect a former first-round pick to turn into a league-average innings eater by age 24. If you're trying to trade Billingsley, what are the chances that you can convince some other team that his 2008 performance portends a brighter future? And if you cannot convince anyone of such but decide to trade him anyway, what are the chances that your spiel turns out to be true and you come to regret parting with him for so little?

Meanwhile, Rubby De La Rosa appears to be part of the solution. The 22-year-old right-hander has been predictably inconsistent but has shown enough to provide hope. Besides, baseball is long overdue in getting a guy named “Rubby” to the big leagues.

Trayvon Robinson has posted excellent numbers (.299/.377/.561) in the rarefied air of Albuquerque. The 23-year-old would do well to cut down on his swing (he leads the PCL in strikeouts, failing to make contact in about 29 percent of plate appearances this season), and it isn't clear whether his future lies in left or center field, but he should have a future. Although he doesn't figure to be a star, Robinson's broad base of skills could make him a useful cog for the next contending Dodgers club.

Another 23-year-old, shortstop Dee Gordon, possesses exciting skills but is not without flaws. His speed is offset by his lack of power and patience at the plate. Guys like that can succeed, but they also can become Cristian Guzman... or worse.

Jerry Sands could be something. Though Sands' first crack at big-league pitching didn't go so well (.200/.294/.328), his career minor-league record is outstanding (.294/.389/.583 in 1,272 PA). At age 23, and despite the lackluster initial trial, he is ready to receive an extended look with a big-league club that is headed nowhere.

The Dodgers may not have serious trading chips, but they can't let a brief hot streak at the expense of another lousy team keep them from trying to make moves. Fans in Los Angeles have been asked to endure a great many trials on behalf of their team. It would be good to give them something in return for their sacrifice. If wins are unavailable, then at least let them see some of the young talent that they've been hearing about for a while. Even if the kids don't all pan out, they deserve the opportunity to try. And fans deserve the opportunity to watch them.

 Actually, Dodgers fans deserve a great deal more. But you have to start somewhere, and letting the youngsters play is as good a place as any... even if that wasn't the original plan. 

Related Content:  Dodgers,  Chad Billingsley,  Trade To Dodgers

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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ScottyB

Alas, if only "develop young players" DePodesta were still the GM there instead of "I only trust proven veterans" Colletti.

Jul 12, 2011 09:45 AM
rating: 0
 
beerchaser42

And the hits just keep on coming.... the Dodgers just traded for Juan Rivera, lol. The kind of player they need to be shedding, not taking on.

Jul 12, 2011 11:56 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

I'm speechless. Give props to AA for continuing to shed what semed to be completely sunk costs

Jul 12, 2011 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

A lot of times, I complain about people using the word "peripherals" simply out of form. Here, though, I think the use of the word does active harm. Peripherals and production, for major league pitchers, are not two different things. Peripherals *are* production.

Also, unless there's something funky about pitcher WARP on this site, "league-average innings-eater" isn't remotely fair to the man. 2009 was Billingsley's worst full season: he had 2.9 WARP. He near-doubled that to 5.6 last year (5th among pitchers in MLB), and PECOTA's got him down for 4.5 this season (taking his 3.2 (10th) and adding his ROS 1.3). That's a tough "star" standard!

Jul 12, 2011 16:53 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Geoff Young
BP staff

Peripherals are *related* to production, but the two are not identical. Ricky Nolasco had terrific peripherals (2.1 BB/9, 9.5 K/9) in 2009 but didn't prevent runs from scoring (5.06 ERA). The opposite was true of Kevin Millwood (3.2 BB/9, 5.3 K/9, 3.67 ERA) that same year.

Jul 13, 2011 06:52 AM
 
Jason Wojciechowski

Is there any point to calling it "production" if the difference between Nolasco's RA and Millwood's is (almost?) entirely chalked up to random variation + defense?

Jul 13, 2011 16:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Squirrelmetrix

The Rivera deal sounds like the Dodgers are taking him on at the minimum and he is serving as a replacement for Marcus Thames. The crime in the acquisition is not the expense but the player, who blocks two outfielders tearing it up in Albuquerque. Yes, Rivera can play first. So can Sands.

The Dodgers should have a fire sale, selling player that is not a part of the future for whatever they can get. Yes, that means Aaron Miles too. If he can't be dealt with the kind of season he is having, he embodies everything that is wrong about the Dodgers. A team full of veteran stop-gaps only go so far.

Geoff is right. Let the kids play, Ned. You will be gone in good time so at least do the honorable thing and make sure this team is getting closer to winning a future World Series rather than trying to make a run when the team is 11 games back and 10 under .500. Sell and stop letting bums take the place of legit prospects. This team is a mess. I am a Dodger fan and I will be happy calling this season and taking a high pick. The only sane people with a hand in acquiring talent are Logan White and his scouts. Ned and Frank will only turn things into stone. It's time to show that you can sell something Ned. Find some suckers because it takes one to know one.

Jul 12, 2011 22:12 PM
rating: 0
 
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