Dodger Thoughts: Pitching

Can Kershaw repeat?

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
7:24
AM PT
At lunch Wednesday with Dodger publications director Jorge Martin, we marveled with glee not only at Clayton Kershaw's magnificent 2011 season, but our inability, despite knowing all about how hard the job of pitching is, not to expect him to dominate every time out in 2012. Our heads tell us he might not pitch as well this year as last. Our hearts tell us he can pitch even better.

It got me to wondering how pitchers with seasons like Kershaw's followed them up the following campaign. And the news isn't exactly good.

Here are two charts – the first an appetizer, the second the main course:

Top 20 individual Dodger seasons since 1958

Player YearAgeERA+ ERA+ next year Change
Koufax196630190Retired ---
Koufax196428188160 -28
Hershiser19852617190 -81
Brown200035169151*-18
Brown200338169110*-59
Kershaw201123163TBD ---
Sutton197227162144 -18
Sutton198135161112 -49
Koufax196529160190 30
Koufax196327159160 1
Nomo199526150122 -28
Welch198528150106 -44
Drysdale196427149118 -31
Messersmith197529149125 -24
Hershiser198829149149 0
Hersisher19893014988 -61
Hooton19813114887*-61
Penny20072914767*-70
Hooton197727147130 -17
Reuss198132146113 -33
Average 291591234-33
* did not pitch enough innings to qualify for ERA title in following year

Top 50 individual MLB seasons since 1958, ages 21-25

Player YearAgeERA+ ERA+ next year Change
P. Martinez199725219163 -56
Z. Greinke200925205100 -105
D. Chance196423198108 -90
C. Buchholz201025187122*-65
V. Blue197121185102*-83
J. Santana200425182155 -27
B. Saberhagen198925180118 -62
K. Appier199325179131 -48
M. Prior200322179110*-69
D. Righetti198122174105 -69
F. Hernandez201024174111 -63
T. Lincecum200925173114 -59
F. Hernandez200923172174 2
J. Peavy200423171134 -37
J. D'Amico20002417172*-99
T. Lincecum200824169173 4
J. Candelaria197723169115 -54
R. Clemens198623169154 -15
D. Ellsworth19632316799 -68
K. Millwood19992516799 -68
A. Anderson198825166110 -56
K. Appier199225166179 13
S. McDowell196825165127 -38
T. Seaver196924165143 -22
B. Webb200324165129 -36
S. Carlton196924164111 -53
M. Mussina199425164145 -19
C. Kershaw201123163TBD ---
B. Sheets200425162128 -34
G. Nolan197224162102*-60
T. John196825161119 -42
S. McDowell196522161120 -41
J. Magrane198823161124 -37
C. Zambrano200423160135 -25
A. Hammaker198325159164*5
J. Jurrjens20092315984*-75
R. Halladay200225159145 -14
M. Fidrych197621159149*-10
B. Zito200224158135 -23
B. Blyleven197322158142 -16
D. Bosman196925158118 -40
M. Mussina199223157100 -57
J. Guzman199225156109 -47
R. Jones197525156120 -36
A. Pettitte199725156104 -52
F. Tanana19772315499 -55
D. McLain196824154135 -19
J. Palmer196923154134 -20
R. Clemens198724154141 -13
T. Glavine199125153134 -19
Average 241681258-43


As you can see, there's a host of great names on these lists, including Hall of Famers and Hall of Very Gooders. Just because there's a decline after a great season doesn't mean that there weren't great seasons in their future.

But a decline following a great season for a young pitcher is common, and on average pretty significant.

So the challenge for our dear Kershaw is to buck history. This much I'll say – if anyone can do it, if anyone can imitate Sandy Koufax (at a younger age), he can.
Current 2013 Dodger starting pitching candidates:

1) Chad Billingsley
2) Chris Capuano
3) Rubby De La Rosa
4) Nathan Eovaldi
5) Aaron Harang
6) Clayton Kershaw
7) Zach Lee
8) Ted Lilly
9) Allen Webster
10) Chris Withrow
Tags:

Pitching

From ESPN Stats and Information, regarding Tuesday's starting pitchers:

Category   Stephen Strasburg   Ted Lilly

Total pitches 56 105
Time on mound 21:28 54:40
Average inning 4:18 10:56
Longest 5:06 16:36
Shortest 3:20 4:47
Seconds per pitch 23.0 31.2
Tags:

Pitching


Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley has been unable to keep his ERA below 4.00 this season.

In an early scene of the underappreciated classic "Joe vs. the Volcano," Mr. Waturi (Dan Hedaya) is on the phone repeating to an unseen caller, "I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?"

The different answers to that question, when it's asked of Dodger starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, are helping rebuild his case as the Dodgers' MPP: Most Polarizing Player.

One thing to realize is that Billingsley, while not a staff leader, remains 25th in the National League in Wins Above Replacement as well as Fielding Independent ERA in 2011, according to Fangraphs. To be the 25th-best pitcher in a 16-team league, simple math tells us, is to fit right in as a solid No. 2 starter relative to the rest of the NL.

Let that sit with you for a moment. Whatever you might think of Billingsley, most NL pitchers are worse. And that's in what anyone would stipulate is a down year for Billingsley.

Just the same, it would be impossible not to acknowledge a widespread level of disappointment with the 27-year-old righty – not to mention a significant number of people who can't stand it when he takes the mound.

The roots of this are deep, and date back to nearly three years ago, when Billingsley briefly stole MPP honors from such title-holders as Juan Pierre, Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Broxton and Matt Kemp.

Billingsley entered the 2009 season with a career ERA of 3.39 and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, coming off an age-24 season in which his 3.14 ERA was seventh in the NL (and his FIP was fifth). We're talking about an elite pitcher at age 24.

Billingsley then threw 6 2/3 innings of seven-strikeout, one-run ball in the Dodgers' sweep of the Cubs in the NL Division Series, probably the most forgotten 6 2/3 innings of Billingsley's career.

That's because, at a moment where Billingsley was everything you could ask for – at a time when the Dodgers had suddenly become favorites to reach the World Series, and he was one of the main reasons – he fell apart in the NLCS. In two starts, he lasted a combined five innings and allowed 10 earned runs in taking two of the Dodgers' four losses to the Phillies. And of course, it was the nature of the meltdown – when he was accused of not having the backbone, guts or other body parts to stand up for his teammates and brush back Phillies hitters in Game 2 – that torched his reputation.

Thanks to those two games, roughly half of the Dodger fanbase threw everything that Billingsley had accomplished in the first three seasons of his career out the window to serve the story that he was a loser. Everything he has done in the three seasons since has been refracted through that prism.

For example, how many people remember that Billingsley came right back in 2009 and – despite breaking his leg in an offseason accident – pitched exceptionally enough to make the All-Star team, with a 3.14 ERA and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in the first half? And how many people remember the second half, when the first prolonged slump of his career eventually knocked him out of the postseason starting rotation? There's your divide, and it's stark.

The funny thing is that in August and September of that 2009 slump, Billingsley's ERA was 4.21 – hardly Haegeresque. But no doubt many people remember his entire second half of that season as a complete collapse, and probably think he was blasted by the sixth inning of every start he made in that time. In fact, there are still people who probably think Billingsley fades in the second half every season, ignoring 2008 (2.99 ERA) and 2010 (3.00 ERA).

It was a shame that Billingsley knocked himself out of the opportunity to redeem himself in the 2009 postseason. Still, he continued rebuilding his credentials in 2010, with a 3.57 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings, enough for the Dodgers to commit $35 million to him for the next three seasons, 2012-14.

But Billingsley has been inconsistent again in 2011. In May, he had a 2.63 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 41 innings, lowering his season ERA to 3.46 at the end of the month. Since then, it's been a mixed bag, with his ERA rising to 4.07, which would be the highest of his career if it stays there.

If Kemp were having the kind of season that Billingsley is having ... well, Kemp did have that season. He had it in 2010, when everyone questioned his effort and not a few people wanted to give up on him.

Billingsley, on the other hand, does not seem to have his effort questioned, but even this year, his mental approach to the game has been challenged.

"I know he can get the job, but can he do the job."

Billingsley’s problems might be less mysterious than all that, however. His strikeout rate has dipped for the fourth consecutive season, from 9.01 in 2008 to 8.21 in 2009, 8.03 last year and 7.46 this season – a figure that is neither bad nor great, but the trend is kind of discouraging. In the past year, his walk rate has gone up from 3.24 to 3.84, virtually as much as his strikeout rate has gone down.

What does it all mean?

In direct contrast to his reputation, Billingsley has repeatedly shown the ability to come back from adversity. From the 2008 postseason, from his broken foot, from his 2009 slump, Billingsley has always found a way. But this, quietly, might be his biggest challenge of all. It might require nothing more than a tweak, or it might require something much more substantial. Can he do what Kemp did?

In the history of the Dodgers, only eight pitchers have had more strikeouts before turning 28 than Billingsley, and three of them are in the Hall of Fame. Only 13 pitchers have had a better park- and era-adjusted ERA before turning 28 than Billingsley. He is, objectively, one of the best young pitchers in more than 100 years of Dodger baseball.

Another one of those is Billingsley's teammate Clayton Kershaw, who poses a standard that Billingsley probably won't be able to live up to. But Billingsley's inability to match Kershaw isn't what will make or break him. He doesn't have to be Kershaw-good to be good.

The question is not whether Billingsley has been a good pitcher for the Dodgers up to now. The question is whether he is slipping just as he's entering what should be his prime. There's every chance that he'll bounce back to be as good as he ever was. But in the process of figuring that out, the MPP trophy seems headed his way.

Dodger bullpen just sad

April, 20, 2011
4/20/11
5:16
AM PT
The 2011 Dodger bullpen to date:

Jonathan Broxton: 7 1/3 innings, 13 baserunners, five strikeouts
Hong-Chih Kuo (disabled list): 2 2/3 innings, five baserunners, four strikeouts
Matt Guerrier: 8 2/3 innings, six baserunners, five strikeouts
Kenley Jansen: 8 2/3 innings, 19 baserunners, 13 strikeouts
Blake Hawksworth: 9 2/3 innings, 13 baserunners, six strikeouts
Mike MacDougal: 7 1/3 innings, nine baserunners, four strikeouts
Lance Cormier: seven innings, 16 baserunners, two strikeouts
Ramon Troncoso: 2 2/3 innings, 12 baserunners, zero strikeouts
Total: 54 innings, 93 baserunners, 39 strikeouts

Hmm ...

At least Vicente Padilla might be back soon. He struck out three in 1 1/3 innings Tuesday in his second minor-league rehab outing. He could replace Troncoso.

Will Rubby De La Rosa get a rapid promotion like Jerry Sands? It doesn't seem impossible, though I think the Dodgers would like the inexperienced minor-leaguer to get more starting-pitcher innings under his belt.

Jansen's performance has been shocking, but I would keep him on the major-league roster for now.

* * *

Not that I'm expecting Ivan De Jesus Jr. to be a savior for the moribund offense, but with journeyman Aaron Miles offering seven singles, a double, an HBP, a sacrifice and no walks in 37 plate appearances, maybe Don Mattingly could throw some at-bats to the kid.

About that offense, here's Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
... When you really examine it, though, it isn't that hard to figure out. Juan Uribe, as he has done for most of his career, continues to flail at just about anything that is thrown within a mile of the strike zone. James Loney has brought his second-half nosedive of 2010 into 2011. And how about that pinch-hitting appearance by the still-gimpy Marcus Thames in the seventh inning, when he whiffed on three consecutive pitches from Braves reliever Jonny Venters with the tying run on third and one out?

And speaking of key situations, the Dodgers (8-10) -- who fell into a third-place tie with the San Diego Padres in the National League West and still trail the division-leading Colorado Rockies by 4 1/2 games -- are now hitting .184 (28 for 152) for the season with runners in scoring position, with 35 strikeouts.

And after Casey Blake grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the seventh, at a point when the Dodgers trailed by one run, the Dodgers were hitless in eight at-bats this year with the bases jammed. Not sure which is worse, the fact they have gone 18 games without getting a hit with the bases loaded, or the fact they have had the bases loaded for just eight at-bats. ...

Even more simply, the Dodger offense has a .306 on-base percentage and a .344 slugging percentage. Not far from what was predicted, not enough to get the job done, especially with the pitching staff's disappointing 4.87 ERA.
With Giants righty Matt Cain having to rest an inflamed elbow, Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles uses the occasion to marvel at San Francisco's 2010:
... It’s tough to explain now. The Giants won it all. It’s hard to go back and rediscover that sense of urgency. What were we all worried about? The trick is to start the season with a garbage offense, and then a) hope that a journeyman minor league free agent turns into vintage Carlos Beltran, b) count on a rookie catcher to come up and propel the offense for a month, and c) scour the waiver wire in case there are teams in Florida giving away productive outfielders. It turns out we were just being paranoid.

But when you hear this

"(Cain) has not thrown a baseball since he came down with elbow inflammation on Sunday, making it seem unlikely he will miss only one turn in the rotation. At the same time, he seems totally unconcerned about what he confessed is the first elbow issue of his career."

… you remember why there was urgency in the first place. The Giants were built around young pitching. Young pitching is beautiful, like, oh, a shiny idol made of solid gold. But while you stand there, mouth agape, marveling at the golden treasure, you hear the boulder. The boulder isn’t evil. It’s just obeying the laws of physics. And it’s going to crush you. It’s going to crush you real dead-like. ...

And when I hear that Matt Cain’s elbow is barking, it makes me appreciate just how danged fortunate the Giants and their fans all were. The Giants made it through an entire season with four young starting pitchers, and there weren’t any injury concerns. They didn’t have to recall Todd Wellemeyer. They didn’t have to shoehorn in Henry Sosa for a start or two. The young pitchers were good, and they were healthy. ...

It was special. Never take it for granted.

* * *

Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along Duke Snider stories from oldtime scribes Roger Angell and Dick Young.

* * *

There will be a $1 Dodger Dog day at Dodger Stadium on May 30 when the Rockies play.

* * *

This morning, the Dodgers played a 'B' game in which Ted Lilly made his first spring appearance, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com notes. And as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes, Lilly's relief crew included three former No. 1 picks – Zach Lee, Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller – whose signing bonuses alone totaled nearly $8 million. Lee was the only one of the trio to allow a run.

Later on, the Dodgers have their first night game of Spring Training ...

Dodgers at Reds, 6:05 p.m.

Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJohn Ely
Vicente Padilla was ticketed for the bullpen, but everyone expected him to be the first guy Los Angeles turned to if anyone in the Dodgers' starting rotation had to miss a start. In fact, Padilla was going to be on a starters' program in the early days of Spring Training before shifting to a relievers' routine.

Dodger fans can still hope that Padilla will be back in uniform before a sixth starter is needed, but in case he isn't, who's next in line?
  • Blake Hawksworth started some last year for St. Louis, but Don Mattingly seemed pretty keen on keeping him in the bullpen. "As a starter he was throwing 90 (mph), 91 and out of the bullpen 94, 95," Dodger manager Don Mattingly told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com earlier this month. "Sometimes a guy thinks when he's starting he has to pace himself. Out of the 'pen he's more aggressive and attacking. We feel that's where he fits best."
  • Carlos Monasterios started 13 games for the Dodgers last year, but also performed much better in relief. The question is how the Dodgers view him going forward: He was ticketed for Albuquerque to start this season, but if he's going to be in the rotation, he might be someone they turn to.
  • The Dodgers have toyed with Scott Elbert and even Ramon Troncoso as starting pitchers in their minor-league careers, but they are firmly relievers now.
  • Jon Link has gotten some brief starting work in his pro career, but he seems an unlikely option.
  • Minor-League Pitcher of the Year Rubby De La Rosa? Maybe later, but too soon for now.
  • Tim Redding is the player in camp with the most starting experience: 144 starts in the 33-year-old's major-league career. But none of those have come since 2009, when he had a 5.10 ERA for the Mets.

That brings us back to last spring's rotation savior, John Ely. Ely had a 2.54 ERA through June 1, an 8.00 ERA after. If there's any chance that Part II was the fluke and not Part I, Ely might get the first opportunity to prove it. Elymania II?

Feel-good Friday

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
7:27
AM PT
Health is this morning's lead topic ...
  • Injury prevention continues to offer potential as the next Moneyball (i.e., exploiting the undervalued) frontier. Will Carroll writes about the topic for SI.com (link via new SB Nation national baseball editor Rob Neyer, who has his own comment).
  • Neyer also links to Corey Hawkins' new Baseball Injury Tool, a website that I suspect a lot of us will soon find indispensable.
  • Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit studies the importance of starting pitching depth, noting among other things that even the most stable rotation in the National League, San Francisco's, needed 19 starts outside of its main five pitchers.
  • Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News has completed his massive project, "The Tao of Vin Scully": 21 sportscasters discussing what makes the Dodger legend great.
  • Before we leave the Daily News, I have to pass along Kevin Modesti's "Where Are They Now" story on "Family Affair" boy Johnny Whitaker.
  • The ups and downs of James Loney's professional career, dating back to draft day in 2002 (goodness), are reviewed by John Sickels at Minor League Ball.
  • David Young and I have had All-Something fever lately. His latest at True Blue L.A.: The Los Angeles Dodgers All-Short Stuff Team.
  • Here's a retrospective of the Dodgers' Burt Shotton era, courtesy of Steven Booth and the Hardball Times.
  • The inimitable player/author/speaker Dirk Hayhurst offers his "Ten Commandments of Social Networking as a professional athlete" (via David Pinto's Baseball Musings).
  • Baseball co-blogger David Newhan is lacin' 'em up again, signing a minor-league deal with the San Diego Padres.
  • If I could have had just half of Dee Gordon's Thursday, I'd have been happy: "I swear I just had the best nap ever! My body is feeling it from these intense workouts!"
  • Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com looks at the Dodger infield heading into the coming season.
Most teams that reach the World Series suffer a falloff in team ERA the following year, writes Tim Kurkjian of ESPN.com. Whether the defending champion San Francisco Giants will succumb to the trend, however, remains to be seen.
... We looked at the World Series participants in the past 10 years, and the effect on the pitching staffs the following seasons to those 20 teams. Fourteen of the 20 -- 70 percent -- had an ERA increase the next season. Eight of the 20 -- 40 percent -- had an increase of least a half run, which is substantial. The 10 teams that won the World Series averaged an increase in ERA of .281. The 10 losing teams averaged an increase of .213. The Detroit Tigers went to the World Series in 2006 and compiled a 3.84 ERA, but had a 4.57 ERA the next year, a .73 increase. The St. Louis Cardinals won the 2006 World Series and had a 3.57 ERA, but it increased by 1.08 to 4.65 in 2007. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series in 2005; their team ERA the next year went from 3.61 to 4.61. ...

There could be a number of reasons for an ERA increase the year after making it to the World Series. A bigger workload would represent only one of them. Some staffs are damaged by a loss in free agency (Cliff Lee?), or a trade. The ERA for the 2007 Cardinals increased dramatically in part because ace Chris Carpenter missed the season due to an arm injury.

"I believe our ERA went up in 2009 [by .53] because of an ineffective bullpen,'' Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "When the phone rang down there that year, no one knew who it was for. [Workload] is an issue, but I'd be interested to see about the teams that have been there [the World Series] over and over again, what that does to the ERA the next year. When we made it in 2008, it was the first time for most guys. If the Rays had made it in 2010, we would have been better off because we had been through it once.'' ...

The Giants and Rangers will need to recover. The Giants played 15 postseason games, a total of 135 innings. Ace Tim Lincecum threw 37 innings in the postseason, raising his season total to 249 1/3, a career high and 22 1/3 more innings than he had ever thrown in a season. Matt Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total to 244 2/3, 27 more than he had ever thrown. Jonathan Sanchez threw 20 innings in the postseason, raising his total for the season to 213 1/3, 50 more than he had ever thrown. Madison Bumgarner pitched 20 2/3 innings in the playoffs, raising his total (major and minor leagues) to 214 1/3, 72 more than he had ever thrown in a season. And closer Brian Wilson appeared in 10 games in the postseason, totaling 80 for the season, 12 more than his career high. ...

ERA changes for the Dodgers after their most recent World Series appearances:

1988: 2.96 ERA, 114 ERA+
1989: 2.95 ERA, 117 ERA+

1981: 3.01 ERA, 112 ERA+
1982: 3.26 ERA, 107 ERA+

US Presswire/Icon SMIJon Garland had a 2.72 ERA in six late-season starts with the Dodgers in 2009, but Vicente Padilla took his spot in the postseason.
Ever since Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla signed/re-signed with the Dodgers, nothing has been said to indicate that Garland's spot in the Dodger starting rotation is anything but guaranteed, or that Padilla will have a shot at the starting rotation unless there's an injury.

I know why this is – I just wonder why this is.

The first "why" is a combination of theories that Padilla is a) better suited for relief work – in fact, might even excel in the role, b) has health issues that would benefit from being in the bullpen and c) simply isn't as good as Garland.

But the second "why" offers this: Padilla was one of the best Dodger starting pitchers of 2010 when healthy, and his health issues aren't as career-threatening as, say, Hong-Chih Kuo's, but rather closer to those of someone like Hiroki Kuroda. Padilla might simply be a better starting pitcher than Garland – certainly, the Dodgers came to think so in 2009, when Padilla ousted Garland from the Los Angeles starting rotation and then shined for most of the playoffs.

Ultimately, this question might be moot – sadly, odds are at some point in the season that an injury to another Dodger starting pitcher will put Garland and Padilla in the Dodger rotation at the same time. And the Dodgers seem to be pretty clear about the pecking order for when all the starting pitchers are healthy. But I still think it's interesting that Garland is considered an automatic. They tried these guys together once before, and Garland was the one who was pushed aside.

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFor 4 1/2 seasons, the Dodgers never knew what they were going to get in Odalis Perez.
In the wake of the Jon Garland signing, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. looked at the most commonly used starting pitchers by the Dodgers since 2000, and in the process found that the Dodgers "have had five pitchers each start 30 games in a season just twice in their 127-year franchise history (1977 and 1993), and they have only had four pitchers start 30 games eight other times."

Good stuff, but I was interested in something else, too. Given my surprise to find our starting rotation settled on paper before the end of November, I was curious how often in recent years the Dodgers had appeared to enter the season in better shape in their starting five than they're in right now – and how they fared in those seasons.

Looking back at the 2000s (playoff teams in bold):
  • 2010: Charlie Haeger won a beleaguered fifth starter competition. The current 2011 rotation, with Garland as the fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, looks better.
  • 2009: Rookies Kershaw and James McDonald looked promising on paper, but most people would probably take the 2011 quintet, with Kershaw two years older.
  • 2008: Brad Penny was coming off a 3.03 ERA in 2007, Chad Billingsley was rising and Derek Lowe in the final year of his contract, while Kuroda was untested in the U.S. and Kershaw hadn't arrived. In fact, it was the rotating arms in the No. 5 spot (a shaky Esteban Loaiza, a green Hong-Chih Kuo) that helped hasten Kershaw's debut. The Dodger rotation heading into 2008 was probably better than the 2011 group – until Friday.
  • 2007: This was the year newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf (the first time around) were supposed to anchor the Dodger staff, joining Lowe, Penny and Billingsley. This was an exciting group – until Schmidt and Wolf combined for 24 starts and a 5.05 ERA.
  • 2006: Lowe, Penny ... Odalis Perez (coming off a poor 2005) ... Brett Tomko and Jae Seo. A little bit of wishful thinking, here.
  • 2005: New free agent Lowe, Perez (coming off a strong 2004) and Jeff Weaver for the front three. The Dodgers knew they'd be dealing with filler at the No. 5 spot, and with Penny coming back late from his 2004 injury, they were duct-taping No. 4 as well, ultimately starting April with the likes of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson.
  • 2004: The Dodgers' first playoff trip of the century began with Hideo Nomo, Perez, Weaver and Kaz Ishii – not a bad front four if you thought the 25-year-old Perez would regain his 2002 form. The other three had ERAs below 4.00 the year before. The fifth starter left in TBD status until the job was seized by Jose Lima, who had a memorable year through and into the playoffs (after having thrown 503 2/3 innings with a 6.18 ERA since 2000), while Ishii ended up struggling and Nomo fell apart.
  • 2003: Kevin Brown was coming off an injury-plagued 2002, but there was still hope for him (rightfully so) to lead a staff that also included a resurgent Nomo, Ishii and Perez (3.00 ERA in 2002). Darren Dreifort, attempting a comeback after going more than 20 months between games, got the first chance at the No. 5 start, but the Dodgers also had Andy Ashby (3.91 ERA in '02) as a No. 6 starter. So there was depth, but also an understanding that the depth could be needed immediately.
  • 2002: Lots of new blood to join Brown and Ashby: Nomo (returning as a free agent from Boston), Perez (acquired with Brian Jordan in January's Gary Sheffield trade) and Ishii (signing his first U.S. contract on February 28) – not to mention Omar Daal, another returning former Dodger who came in an offseason trade from Philadelphia but began the year in the bullpen. By the time Spring Training started, the staff was deep – one of the reasons second-year manager Jim Tracy experimented with converting a guy who had made 24 starts in 2001 into a reliever: Eric Gagne.
  • 2001: In his last year before becoming a free agent, Chan Ho Park was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, followed by Gagne, Dreifort, Ashby and – in place of Brown, who was limited by injuries – Luke Prokopec. Either Gagne or Prokopec were to be the No. 5 starters on paper, after making some waves in 2000. You might laugh now, but there was reason to think this could be a pretty decent starting rotation.
  • 2000: You had Brown, Park and Dreifort, all coming off solid 2000 seasons. Then you had Carlos Perez, who had a 7.43 ERA in 1999. And rounding out the fivesome, you had the last gasp of Orel Hershiser, who had a 4.58 ERA with the Mets at age 40 the year before. It did not go well for this rotation.

In terms of Dodger starting rotations that had proven talent in all five slots since 2000, you'd have to look at 2007 and 2002 as the leading lights, with honorable mention to 2003. Neither of these teams, of course, reached the playoffs (though the '02 team won 92 games), while the Dodgers' past four playoff teams all had question marks in at least one spot in the starting rotation entering the season.

Matt York/AP
John Ely has allowed 11 home runs and 29 walks in his past 49 1/3 major-league innings.



It's getting harder and harder to remember the John Ely we all want to remember.

Though Ely never trailed Saturday until allowing a sixth-inning home run, he surely did struggle, using 101 pitches (nearly half of them balls) in 5 1/3 innings and walking five unintentionally. He had six consecutive outstanding starts from May 6 to June 1; since then, he has had three quality starts out of 10 in the majors, with an ERA of 7.48 and 5.3 walks/2.0 home runs per nine innings. Opponents are OPS-ing 1.002 against him in that time.

During Elymania, everyone marveled at his ability to pound the plate, and the value of that is borne out on first glance at his splits: Ely has allowed a .567 OPS after getting a first strike on a batter, .983 after ball one. However, it's not quite that simple, because Ely is also allowing a .929 OPS when batters swing at his first pitch.

According to MLB Gameday, Cole Gillespie's pivotal three-run homer Saturday came on a 80-mph floating changeup over the meat of the plate that followed an 87-mph fastball for a strike. Ely had the count to his advantage, but the pitch just wasn't good enough.

None of this is enough to make me give up on Ely, but he is going to need to find a way to raise his game. The walks contribute to his trouble, but simply throwing strikes isn't enough. He somehow has to get back to fooling people.

* * *

Josh Fisher at Dodger Divorce goes beyond the legal realities of the McCourt case to offer his take on what really happened with the disputed post-nup agreement.

* * *

To my amusement, in the Dodger press notes, Dodgers communications vice president Josh Rawitch has been tracking Chin-Lung Hu's rise up the chart of all-time Dodger leaders in games played by a shortstop. Friday, Hu passed Rafael Bournigal to move into a tie for 29th place, and Saturday, Hu left Oscar Robles in the dust. Hu's next game at short takes him past Kevin Elster.

According to Rawitch, the Dodgers will finish the season with 593 player games lost to the disabled list, the team's lowest total since 2002. The Dodgers crossed the 1,000-game mark in 2008 and 2009.
Carlos Monasterios takes the hill tonight, a reminder of how much people lamented the Dodgers' lack of a reliable No. 5 starter earlier this year.

This came up in the Dodger Thoughts comments on Thursday, and I think it's worth pointing out that while the Dodgers had mixed success finishing off their starting rotation from inside the organization, it wasn't as if the strategy itself was a failure. It worked quite well down south for the National League West-leading San Diego Padres.

In fact, the Padres' rotation was even more of a longshot. Back in March, Mat Latos was a guy with 10 career starts and a 4.62 ERA, Wade LeBlanc had 13 career games with 5.05 ERA and Clayton Richard 51 games with 4.80 ERA. Yet all three of these guys came through huge, joining Kevin Correia and free agent signee Jon Garland in making 118 of the Padres' 120 starts so far this season.

Some will argue that the Dodgers should have done things differently, or that the Padres had more reason to believe that their guys would do better than Monasterios, John Ely, James McDonald, Scott Elbert and ex-Padre Charlie Haeger. But the fact remains that very few teams enter a season with five established starting pitchers. By necessity, the Padres cobbled together a rotation largely from within, with a mixed bag of resumes, and it paid off handsomely.

Basically, things have just gone very right for San Diego this year.

* * *

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has this update on the man in the crosshairs, Matt Kemp:
Slumping center fielder Matt Kemp took about a half-hour of early batting practice on the field just before the rest of the team came out for pregame stretching. The only coach on hand to watch Kemp was the one who was pitching to him, hitting coach Don Mattingly, who offered occasional batting tips between pitches.

"For the most part, we were just working to get his posture back," Mattingly said. "His butt was jutting out, so he was reaching for a lot of balls. I was trying to get him to keep his butt underneath him, in layman's terms, to give him more of a direct path to the ball."

And, in theory, prevent him from chasing so many low, outside breaking balls, a habit that had contributed greatly to Kemp's recent struggles. He entered the day hitting .218 for August, with 16 strikeouts in 61 plate appearances, and he had struck out 128 times in 510 plate appearances (once every four trips to the plate) for the season.

After his one-on-one session with Mattingly, Kemp went 0-for-4 in the game. But that wasn't as important as the fact that he didn't strike out, and two of his three outs (he reached on an error in the eighth) came on balls that were squared up.

"He was a lot better," Mattingly said. "I was really happy with him tonight. Hopefully, he felt better. He didn't get any results, and that [stinks], but his swing was much better."

* * *
  • From the Dodger press notes: Los Angeles has won 12 straight home games against Cincinnati since losing July 28, 2005.
  • Albuquerque has eight players with at least 10 home runs this year, according to the team press notes: John Lindsey (21), Jay Gibbons (19), Russ Mitchell (19), Xavier Paul (12), Lucas May (11), Prentice Redman (10), Michael Restovich (10), and Justin Sellers (10).
  • Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine still can't quite believe that the McCourts aren't settling.
  • The possibilities and hurdles of trading Manny Ramirez are broken down (from the perspective of whether the Texas Rangers might get him) by Jamey Newberg of MLB.com. Ignore the part about the Dodgers offering Ramirez arbitration — that won't happen.
  • These Bat Slicers remind me of the round All-Star Baseball cards I played with in the 1970s.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images
The Yankees have won 11 of Phil Hughes' 13 starts this season.


This one's interesting on two levels. As Ben Shpigel of the New York Times reports, Phil Hughes won't make his scheduled start Friday at Dodger Stadium.

Level one: The Dodgers avoid facing Hughes, who has a 3.17 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings (against 93 baserunners). Opponents have a .610 OPS against Hughes this year.

Level two: Hughes isn't hurt. New York is resting the righthander, who turns 24 Thursday, in order to limit his innings this season. Hughes has averaged 6 1/3 innings (and 105 pitches) per start, and he's on pace to throw 193 innings this year. Last year, pitching more in relief, Hughes only threw 86 innings in the majors along with 19 1/3 in the minors.

Hughes grew up in Southern California and, after missing the Yankees' April series in Anaheim by the luck of the rotation draw, will miss another opportunity to pitch in front of family and friends.

The Yankees might be the best team in baseball but don't have a playoff spot locked up by any means, so it's interesting to see them exercise this caution.

Update: Oh, almost forgot to mention whom the Dodgers will face this weekend. According to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com, three nobodies: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and A.E. Pettitte.

"It's definitely a disappointment,'' Hughes told Matthews. "And there's really not talking them out of it. It's an organizational decision and that's that. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when they were going to do it.''

* * *

Yet another reason for San Diego's success this year: The Padres bullpen has allowed only 10 inherited runners to score all season, according to Stat of the Day. By comparison, George Sherrill by himself has allowed 15, and Ramon Troncoso 13.

The Dodgers will do the emergency starter thing on Thursday instead of Saturday, Joe Torre told reporters today. Vicente Padilla's Thursday start has been pushed to Friday, Hiroki Kuroda's Friday start to Saturday.

On the surface it's a strange move, because the Dodgers have an off day July 1, five days after Saturday. So by starting someone – either Charlie Haeger or Claudio Vargas, Torre hinted – on Thursday, they'd have to use that person two times instead of once.

What this hopefully means is that the Dodgers are confident that Chad Billingsley will come off the disabled list in time to start June 29 at San Francisco. Nevertheless, it pushes Hiroki Kuroda out of the San Francisco series, which seems a downer to me.

Here's how things now shape up. Of course, this remains subject to change.

Monday: off day
Tuesday: Clayton Kershaw
Wednesday: John Ely
Thursday: Charlie Haeger or Claudio Vargas
Friday: Vicente Padilla
Saturday: Hiroki Kuroda
Sunday, June 27: Clayton Kershaw
Monday, June 28: John Ely
Tuesday, June 29: Chad Billingsley
Wednesday, June 30: Vicente Padilla
Thursday, July 1: off

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.296 16 69 92
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
WC. Kershaw 21
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239