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April 26, 2011

Divide and Conquer, NL West

At Least We Don't Have to Read Thackeray

by Geoff Young

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It's almost May

And I'm amazed at how you fumble

Through saying the things that you do

I don't know how you do it

But you do it

–Greg Laswell

Laswell wasn’t speaking of Bud Selig and the McCourts, but here we are. It’s almost May and we’re all amazed at how they fumble through saying the things that they do.

The McCourt saga can’t be covered in a column. We need Dostoyevsky or Thackeray to do the trick, or maybe Ayn Rand. The short version is that the Dodgers ownership situation is messy enough that MLB has stepped in to take control of the ballclub.

The last time Selig and his minions made such a move, it didn’t end well... unless you’re a fan of the Washington Nationals, in which case you got some other town’s team handed to you.

Irwindale is lovely this time of year. So is Brooklyn.

No, the Dodgers aren’t going anywhere–physically or metaphorically–but this doesn’t promise to be one of the brighter periods of a storied franchise.

Frank McCourt, meanwhile, has minions of his own. One of them, the recently hired Steve Soboroff, is firing shots back at Selig and MLB (the folks who exercised such outstanding judgment in letting the McCourts sit at the table in the first place). The fun quote that is getting most of the play is, “We need more people like Frank McCourt.” The question left unanswered is, “Need them for what?”

It is difficult to sort through all the rhetoric, as there are too many lawyers involved. My best guess is that a kernel of truth exists somewhere in the middle of this mess, but nobody knows what that kernel is, where to find it, or how to extract it from the surrounding garbage—the judge forgot to assign the truth to one of the McCourts during the divorce trial.

We don’t need more lawyers to solve this—we need more psychics. I don’t know how they do it, but they do it...

Back on the field, Jerry Sands is up with the big club. He replaces Xavier Paul on the roster and so far is doing a nice Paul impersonation. Snark aside, the 23-year-old Sands had hit .294/.390/.584 in more than 1,100 minor-league plate appearances when he was recalled.

With the Dodgers running a two-man offense, what better time to add an extra bat? Sands is in left field now but may end up at first base, where James Loney continues to fall short of once lofty expectations.

In Los Angeles, many questions remain–Why is Jonathan Broxton struggling? How long will it take for Hong-Chih Kuo to recover from his back strain? Who is John Galt?–but the Dodgers’ ownership crisis is burden enough for now. Everything else can wait for some other day.

* * *

Sands isn’t the only young first baseman on the move. Giants phenom Brandon Belt was sent to Triple-A Fresno “to refine his hitting technique”–presumably the same technique that earned him the big-league job less than a month ago. Belt was hitting .192/.300/.269 at the time of his demotion, and while Dodgers and Padres fans might think those are great numbers for a first baseman, that line didn’t fly in San Francisco.

On the one hand, demoting a top prospect after 17 games in April could deliver the wrong message (and if nothing else, Belt’s struggles help us see the club’s caution with Buster Posey a year ago in a different light). On the other, fly balls served up by Giants pitchers stand a chance of being caught now that one of their two DHs has left the outfield.

Speaking of pitchers, southpaw Barry Zito landed on the disabled list for the first time in his 12-year career with a mid-foot sprain. I mentioned a while back that I drafted the Dodgers’ Jon Garland in the BP Kings Scoresheet League because of his durability—guess who also drafted Zito for the same reason. There’s a lesson in this. Let me know what it is, because I could use the help.

At the very least, Zito’s injury buys time for Madison Bumgarner, who is struggling, but who according to manager Bruce Bochy is in no imminent danger of joining Belt in the birthplace of popping.

* * *

We’ve discussed the Diamondbacks’ curious off-season decision to replace Mark Reynolds with Melvin Mora at third base. This now looks brilliant... because Mora was so awful that he lost his job to Ryan Roberts, who has hit like Reynolds but without all those meddlesome strikeouts:

Player

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

HR

BB

SO

Melvin Mora

36

.273

.278

.303

0

0

3

Mark Reynolds

76

.179

.263

.343

2

7

21

Ryan Roberts

60

.320

.433

.620

4

10

9

Arizona also received two right-handed relievers from Baltimore in the Reynolds trade. And although Kameron Mickolio has been ineffective, David Hernandez didn’t allow an earned run until his 10th appearance of 2011.

The Diamondbacks, in case you had forgotten, sported the worst bullpen ERA in MLB last year. Their 5.74 ERA was further from #29 (Cubs, 4.72) than #29 was from #10 (Cardinals, 3.73). If Hernandez’s performance thus far isn’t cause for celebration, it at least merits a hearty golf clap.

* * *

Meanwhile, in a season full of bad weeks, Brad Hawpe had his worst yet. Hawpe’s line is down to a staggering .098/.145/.118 (compare with .136/.164/.168 for NL pitchers this year). It’s only 55 plate appearances, but Hawpe isn’t even having competitive at-bats and at some point, small sample size transforms from a reasonable explanation to a desperate excuse.

Hawpe’s struggles this week are reflected in his WPA scores (despite its various limitations, WPA tells a compelling story about individual games):

Date

Result

AB

H

BB

SO

GIDP

WPA

4/18

L, 0-1

1

0

0

0

0

-0.026

4/20

L, 1-2

5

0

0

3

1

-0.559

4/21

L, 0-3

1

0

0

0

0

-0.037

4/23

L, 2-4

5

0

0

1

1

-0.243

4/24

L, 1-3

3

0

0

2

0

-0.036

Hawpe’s performance at Wrigley Field on April 20–the lowest WPA by any position player this year– requires a willing suspension of disbelief beyond what the finest opium will allow. He lined out with runners at first and second to end the fourth inning, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play with the bases loaded to end the sixth, and struck out with runners at second and third for the second out of the 10th.

The calls for Anthony Rizzo, who is hitting .420/.487/.768 at Triple-A Tucson and leading the PCL in total bases, are getting louder and harder to ignore. The question is whether the Padres are ready to make a full commitment to Rizzo. Given the attention focused on him as a key component in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, this can’t be a 17-game experiment.

Another option is Kyle Blanks, currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and rehabbing at Double-A San Antonio. As of this writing, he has gotten into nine games (six as DH, three at first base) and could see action with the big club sooner than the Padres had anticipated.

Hawpe isn’t the only drain on the offense. We’ve discussed the Padres’ early struggles, and a four-game set against the Phillies’ vaunted rotation at Petco Park didn’t help. Acknowledging that there is plenty of season left, here are the five worst offensive performances relative to league in club history:

Year

R/G

SD

NL

SD/NL

2011

2.86

4.34

0.66

1969

2.89

4.05

0.71

1971

3.02

3.91

0.77

1974

3.34

4.15

0.80

1973

3.38

4.15

0.81

Between the expansion draft in 1969 and a weaker offensive environment, those teams from the late-’60s/early-’70s had an unfair “advantage” in terms of not scoring runs. Still, this year’s version is doing a solid Omar Moreno impression, but without the whistle.

And so the annual hitting coach watch begins...

* * *

Speaking of hitters who fell apart in a hurry, the Rockies have optioned third baseman Ian Stewart to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Despite clubbing 43 home runs over the past two seasons, Stewart found himself back in the PCL even more quickly than Belt did.

Manager Jim Tracy said that Stewart “needs to go down and get a bunch of at-bats.” Tracy also noted that imports Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez deserved more opportunities: “Think how dynamic our offense can be if we can get one or both of them going.”

Tracy’s reasons for singling out Stewart are something of a mystery, as none of the internal third base options has contributed to the Rockies’ strong start:

Name

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

BB

SO

Ian Stewart

28

.077

.143

.077

2

11

Ty Wigginton

63

.204

.290

.296

5

10

Jose Lopez

58

.161

.190

.286

1

8

Stewart had more trouble making contact, and someone needed to be the scapegoat.

Maybe he and Belt can start a support group: “Lefties Who Left Too Many Men on Base and the Men They Left.” They can invite Loney and Hawpe as well. It will be fun, in a “hey, at least we don’t have to read Thackeray” kind of way.

Related Content:  Brad Hawpe,  The Who,  Ian Stewart,  Year Of The Injury

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