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May 31, 2000

NL West Notebook

The California Edition

by Joe Sheehan

The Dodger Bullpen

One of the problems Davey Johnson had in his first year as the Dodger manager was a lack of bench options, especially left-handed ones. Over the winter, Kevin Malone worked to get him more balance, trading away Eric Young and Raul Mondesi while bringing Shawn Green and F.P. Santangelo. Along with increased use of Todd Hollandsworth and the presence of Chad Kreuter, Johnson has had more options when the Dodgers are batting.

At the same time, though, he has had to adjust to a bullpen without a left-handed reliever. The Dodgers have gotten a grand total of 14 innings of left-handed relief all season, and went through a three-week stretch in which they had no left-handed relievers on the roster. Johnson has been more of a matchups manager in the past, and this roster problem could have led to some of the same complaints he made last year.

To his credit, he has adjusted well. Rather than bitch and moan, he changed his usage patterns and has gotten good work from Terry Adams, Mike Fetters, Matt Herges and Antonio Osuna in front of nominal closer Jeff Shaw. Those four guys have provided more than 80 innings of relief at a combined ERA of about 3.00, and have often been used for multiple innings at a time.

The Dodgers are back to carrying one left-handed reliever, waiver claim Trever Miller, who is expected to be used in the one-batter role. In a division with Barry Bonds, Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Steve Finley and Erubiel Durazo, I admit that it's hard to have no lefties available. And Miller isn't displacing a major talent, as his roster spot is essentially the one that had been occupied by what's left of Orel Hershiser.

But given the success the Dodgers have had without a left-hander in the pen--and the dubious case for Miller as a solution--it would have been nice to see the team break the mold and continue using pitchers based on effectiveness, not handedness.

A Giant Dilemma

Not that Dusty Baker needs any incentive to ride his starters, but now he has one. The Giants are currently carrying just ten pitchers. That's in part due to the ugliness of Ben Weber--I mean his 14.63 ERA and 1050 OPS allowed, not his Peasian looks--but it also has to do with the great performance the Giants are getting from the end of their bench:

Ramon Martinez:     .282/.378/.487
Terrell Lowery:     .591/.625/.909
Calvin Murray:      .325/.415/.437
Felipe Crespo:      .367/.441/.467

These are the likely candidates to be sent out when Joe Nathan comes off the DL, and all are playing like gangbusters. And while none of these hitting performances will last, these guys all have other markers. Terrell Lowery and Calvin Murray are important defensively, because Ellis Burks needs to sit frequently and Marvin Benard is a center fielder by contract only. Ramon Martinez is the only real backup shortstop on the team, while Crespo is a good hitter and can play five positions.

My solution would be to dump Russ Davis (.283/.309/.358) and let Bill Mueller play every day at third base and J.T. Snow play every day at first base. If you want to sit one of them against a left-handed starter, use Crespo, whose 1-for-8 this year batting right-handed does not reflect his actual ability. Davis is the most one-dimensional of the Giants' bench players, and is performing the worst of the bunch.

The need to handle Burks and, to a lesser extent, Barry Bonds carefully means the Giants need at least six outfielders. They're lucky to have that many useful ones right now, so they should take advantage of that fact.

Fun With Friars

The Padres have won four of five and nine of their last 14, while making errors at a rate that has your local HMO jealous: 12 in five games and 15 in a seven-game streak with at least one. Something to think about when your local broadcaster tries to use fielding percentage to make a point about team quality.

The errors aren't even the weirdest thing seen on defense in San Diego this past week. Monday night, Bruce Bochy brought in Dave Magadan in a double-switch.

At shortstop.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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