July 31, 2012
Victorino Dons Dodger Blue
You know the story of the prodigal son. Young man leaves his father's house, goes all bananas with his inheritance, runs out of funds and slinks back to his father's house, where he is welcomed back with love and grace and a roaring party. Most people know the story. Most people, I suspect, don't know exactly what the word prodigal means. "Spending money or resources freely or recklessly." Victorino returns to the Dodgers nearly eight seasons after the Phillies claimed him in the Rule 5 draft, but he hasn't squandered anything; he multiplied his inheritance tenfold! (Mixed parables.) The question is whether the Dodgers, in their bid to win the NL West, have become the prodigal father. Acquiring Victorino (on top of the other moves they've made and attempted this week) says they are spending freely but, so far, not recklessly.
The Dodgers, like every team, have fielded three outfielders in each game this year. That's the extent of the accomplishments their left-fielders have put up, with a cumulative .259/.329/.348 line at a power-first position; the 0.4 WARP that the group has produced can be entirely credited to Jerry Hairston, Jr., who is needed elsewhere most nights. Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu have handled most of the starts there this year, and if you think it can't get worse than that, just imagine all the other Angels castoffs that a desperate Ned Colletti might have run into. Gary Matthews, Jr.? Another go at Garret Anderson? Vernon Wells? Shane Victorino has never played outfield for the Angels. Things are already looking up.
What Victorino has done is set a pretty steady offensive pace that, even in this down year, he rarely sinks below. Excepting a career-low .257 True Average in his first year with the Phillies and a career-high .311 TAv last year, Victorino has been between .267 and .277 every season of his career. He's at .272 now, and PECOTA projects .276. This is not, as with Hanley Ramirez, a hefty investment in a lottery ticket; it's a reasonable investment in a pretty certain thing, at a position where the theoretical floor was theoretically quicksand.
Victorino's upside is also probably more limited than his near-MVP season just one cycle back suggests. For one thing, he's not much of a hitter against right-handers. He's not as bad as his split this year (.242/.301/.349) suggests, but even in his very best seasons, he has never topped a .787 OPS against the common folk. He's a star against left-handers, batting .316/.399/.567 over the past three seasons, but there are only so many chances a lefty-masher gets to mash. Optimistically, we'll note that the Dodgers face a schedule heavy on NL West opponents over the next two months, and those four division rivals have used lefty pitchers about 40 percent more often than the league as whole. Victorino will get plenty of chances to flash his special talent.
He, not Matt Kemp, will presumably slide to left field. The offensive bar is obviously higher there, but if Victorino's defensive skills as an average center fielder turn him into a plus left fielder, his value holds about steady. The Dodgers now have three of the least-deserving Gold Glovers in recent history in their outfield, and while the trio might not have deserved the hardware, they also don't play defense as though they are actually made of hardware. That was a Bobby Abreu joke. It needs work. No time!
PECOTA sees a half-win upgrade on either Abreu or Tony Gwynn, Jr. for the rest of the season, which puts Victorino's value in perspective. But a half-win—well, a win—could make a big difference to the Dodgers in a lot of scenarios: between a division and a Wild Card; a Wild Card and no Wild Card; or even, under our playoff odds' current forecast, the difference between a division and no playoff spot at all. So the Dodgers spent freely. Not recklessly at all. Party on. —Sam Miller
Acquired RHP Josh Lindblom, RHP Ethan Martin, and a player to be named later or cash considerations from the Dodgers for OF-S Shane Victorino. [7/31]
Lindblom works down in the zone with a low-80s slider and up in the zone with a low-90s fastball, a plan that stops working right around the conjunction. He controls the slider well, doesn't have to worry about too many walks, and has held right-handers to a .198/.255/.329 line as a big leaguer. But those fastballs up have tended to go a long way in the other direction, and Lindblom's nine home runs allowed—each on a fastball, all but two in the upper half of the zone—have contributed to a 5.10 FIP in his first full season in the Dodgers' bullpen.
Of course, he was the same pitcher last year and allowed just as many fly balls, and he didn't allow a single home run. There's certainly some luck involved in the final 20 or 30 feet of a home run's flight, and the totality of his performance says he's a useful reliever capable of representing the league average. The extreme flyballer doesn't quite excel enough at the other two-thirds of FIP's formula to be a real high-leverage option, though. —Sam Miller
2009: 1; 2010: 3; 2011: 10; 2012: 14. Those numbers represent where Ethan Martin has ranked within the Dodgers system on my annual Top 11. That's not exactly the kind of trend you want to see in a prospect, but he's gotten some stock back this year. The 15th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Martin is an ultra-athletic righty who would have gotten single-digit round consideration as a third baseman out of high school. After an impressive professional debut at Low-A, his merely average command and control began to go downhill as he got clobbered in the California League, but he's made some adjustments this year (while still walking 4.7 batters per nine) and his stuff has never regressed. His low-90s fastball parks comfortably at 92 and can touch 95. He gets good shape on a curveball that is at least average and flashes plus, and his changeup is acceptable. Location remains a big issue for Martin, and scouts believe the issue is mechanical. To say he rushes his delivery does not do justice to how quickly he flies towards the plate in his delivery. If he can refine things, he's a good no. 4 starter with a shot at becoming a no. 3; seventh- or eighth-inning relief work is the back-up plan. —Kevin Goldstein
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.