Dodger Thoughts: Ted Lilly

Remembering 2011: Ted Lilly

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
7:19
AM PT

Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireTed Lilly (12)
The setup: After coming to the Dodgers, the team that drafted him in 1996, at the 2010 trade deadline and posting a 3.52 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, Lilly was a free agent but one with an interest in staying in Los Angeles. In mid-October, not waiting to sound out offers from other teams, Lilly signed with the Dodgers for three years and $33 million. Though his ERA was above average during his half-season in Los Angeles, there was concern about his age (35 in January) and his home-run rate (one every six innings, roughly).

The closeup: Lilly didn't eat innings, averaging 5.8 per start, nor was he reliable even at that length for most of the year. He was one of several Dodger veterans who disappointed in the first four months of the season, seemingly taking two steps back after every step forward. Beginning the year by allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 10-0 loss to the Giants, Lilly had three quality starts in his first nine. After managing to lower his ERA to 3.98 on June 11 with a nice run of five starts, he was hit hard over his next three, allowing 17 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings. (Was it the left-elbow tenderness?) Only once in 11 starts from June 6 from August 3, did he last more than six innings, and not once did he complete the seventh. When August began, his ERA was 5.02.

And then, there were the homers and steals. While Matt Kemp pursued a 30-30 or even a 40-40 season, Lilly was in effect doing the same thing from the dark side. For the year, opponents stole 35 bases in 37 attempts against the lefty, all but powerless to slow them. Meanwhile, after allowing only two home runs in April, Lilly gave up nine in May, five in June, seven in July and five in August – a total of 28 entering the season's final month.

But following a solo homer to Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez on August 26, Lilly kept the ball in the park for his final 42 2/3 innings of the season, delivering a 1.69 ERA over that period with 39 strikeouts. (Was it the acupuncture?) When he finished his seventh shutout inning at Arizona in his final appearance of the season, Lilly lowered his ERA to 3.97, its best level since he took the mound for the first time in April. Still, his park-adjusted ERA+ of 94 was Lilly's worst since 2005. Lilly now has a 3.84 ERA in 269 1/3 innings over 45 starts with the Dodgers.

Coming attractions: In he second year of his contract, a 36-year-old Lilly will try to slow his decline in a Dodger rotation that, behind Clayton Kershaw, is also looking for a bounceback year from Chad Billingsley, a return or replacement for Hiroki Kuroda and adequacy from Nathan Eovaldi or his like.
Ted Lilly, trying to stave off joining the 30-30 club, hasn't allowed a home run in his past three starts, his longest stretch since April. This season, Lilly has allowed 28 home runs and 33 steals (in 35 attempts).

According to Baseball-Reference.com, there have been 18 pitcher 30-30 seasons since 1950, none since Gavin Floyd of the White Sox in 2008 and none in the National League since Randy Johnson of Arizona in 1999.

Minutia, Minushka

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
11:32
AM PT
Catching up on some news ...
  • Kenley Jansen has been activated from the disabled list. Josh Lindblom was sent to Double-A Chattanooga, where he will bide his time until he can return, in 10 days when rosters expand or sooner if there's another Dodger injury.
  • Dee Gordon was scheduled to begin a minor-league rehabilitation assignment, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, but Gordon did not play Thursday. It does not appear that the Dodgers will wait until when rosters expand September 1 to activate Gordon, which would mean that Eugenio Velez might not remain on the 25-man roster for long (though would no doubt clear waivers).
  • Ted Lilly is responding well to acupuncture treatment, he told Gurnick.
  • Don Drysdale’s daughter Drew is scheduled to sing National Anthem and God Bless America at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
  • While much talk about the Cubs' general manager vacancy has centered on Ned Colletti, it's former Dodger general manager Dan Evans who might be a more likely choice, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Dodger prospect Jerry Sands is breaking some eggs - that is, making some significant adjustments with the hopes of deriving long-term benefit. From Christopher Jackson at Albuquerque Baseball Examiner:
    ... “It’s been real tough, cause I came back down and I knew I needed to change some things, but it’s tough to totally overhaul in the middle of the season and be productive," Sands said. "I want to get back up there, but I want to look like I learned something.

    "It was tough having to change things I’d done for years and then change them right over. The hot and the cold stretches have been a part of me learning, just a process of what I have to do to be more consistent." ...
  • Clayton Kershaw "stands to become just the fourth Dodger in the 128-year history of the franchise to post three straight seasons with an ERA+ of 130 or higher," writes Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. Jeff Pfeffer, Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser are the others.
  • Stephen also passes along the news that outfielder Kyle Russell has gotten a late-season promotion from Chattanooga to Albuquerque.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey caps its visit to St. Louis with a long, thoughtful piece about sportswriting.
  • The man himself, Bob Eubanks, talked to Dodger historian Mark Langill about the Beatles, setting up this weekend's commemoration of the 45th anniversary of the Beatles playing Dodger Stadium (via Blue Heaven).
  • The friendly folks at Bronx Banter passed along "10 Things John Sterling would say in a hurricane" from IT IS HIGH! IT IS FAR! IT IS... caught.
  • On target as always, Joe Posnanski about "the myth of pressure."
    ... This line — that it’s easier to put up numbers without pennant pressure — is a lot like that. Nobody can possibly believe this. First of all, there’s the obvious flaw: If it were easier to put up numbers in non-pressure situations, then players would consistently and obviously have better years on lousy teams than they do on good ones. Does this ring even the slightest bell of truth? Does anyone believe that Derek Jeter would have put up better numbers had he played for Kansas City? Does anyone believe that Albert Pujols would be so much better if he had spent his career playing in the carefree world of the Pittsburgh Pirates? Roy Halladay was great for mediocre Blue Jays teams and is great for outstanding Phillies teams. Hank Aaron was the same great player with the same great numbers when Milwaukee won, when Milwaukee almost won, and when Milwaukee wasn’t very good at all. ...

    If you’ve read this blog at all you know: I’ve covered a lot of bad teams in my life. I’ve been around some good ones, too. And as far as “pressure” goes, well, from my observation, it’s not even close. There is infinitely more pressure on players on lousy teams than on good ones. Obviously, this depends on how you define pressure, but if the textbook definition of pressure is “the feeling of stressful urgency cause by the necessity of achieving something,” well, absolutely, there’s way more pressure on the lousy teams.

    ... Think about it: What pressure is there on players in pennant races? The pressure to win? Sure. But players come to the ballpark energized. Everyone on the team is into it. The crowd is alive and hopeful. The afternoon crackles. Anticipation. Excitement. There’s nothing in sports quite like the energy in a baseball clubhouse during a pennant race. Players arrive early to prepare. Teammates help each other. Everyone’s in a good mood. There’s a feeling swirling around: This is exactly the childhood dream. The added importance of the moment could, in theory I suppose, create extra stress. But the reality I’ve seen is precisely the opposite. The importance sharpens the senses, feeds the enthusiasm, makes the day brighter. Baseball is a long season. Anything to give a day a little gravity, to separate it from yesterday, to make it all more interesting — anything like that, I think, is much more likely to make it EASIER to play closer to one’s peak.

    A losing clubhouse? Exactly the opposite. The downward pressure is enormous and overwhelming — after all, who cares? The town has moved on. A Hawaiian vacation awaits. Teammates are fighting to keep their jobs or fighting to impress someone on another team or just plain fighting. The manager might be worried about his job. The reporters are few, and they’re negative. Smaller crowds make it easier to hear the drunken critics. Support is much harder to come by, and there is constant, intense force demanding that you just stop trying so hard. After all: Why take that extra BP? You’ve got the swing down. Why study a few extra minutes of film? You’ve faced that hitter before. Why take that extra base? Why challenge him on that 3-1 pitch? Why? You’re down 9-3 anyway.

    It’s absolutely AMAZING to me when a player puts up a fantastic year even when the team around him stinks. ...
Ted Lilly's start tonight for the Dodgers could be considered a critical one, for reasons that have nothing to do with the team's place in the standings.

Lilly has been battling left elbow tenderness, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes. He was given an extra day of rest before making his latest start, after having to skip several between-starts bullpen sessions. This has been going on while Lilly has allowed 17 earned runs over 14 2/3 innings in his past three outings.

Any further struggles could (or perhaps the word is "should") force Lilly to the disabled list, which would mean the callup of John Ely, the only minor-league starting pitcher on the 40-man roster, or someone else who isn't on the 40-man, such as Triple-A All-Star Dana Eveland. Jon Garland is out for the season, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

* * *
  • Andre Ethier is out of today's starting lineup because of the flu, but he did what I presume was MLB-prescribed promotion for his candidacy for the MLB All-Star final vote.
  • Matt Kemp has been invited to the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Break.
  • Baseball America published a list of the youngest ballplayers in each professional league.
  • The Dodgers continue to offer major discounts even on giveaway nights. $5 reserved seats for an Andre Ethier bobblehead promotion Thursday.
  • Longtime Holman Stadium public address announcer Dick Crago passed away Friday at the age of 85, the Dodgers announced. He worked the Vero Beach stadium from 1969-2008.

Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesTony Gwynn couldn't catch Alexi Casilla's drive but threw him out trying to advance to third base for his seventh outfield assist of the season.
Ted Lilly will get his act together before Major League Vaudeville bids him adieu, maybe sometime soon, but he's gettin' tomatoes thrown at him right now.

Lilly allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings (81 pitches), meaning that over his past three starts, Lilly has allowed 17 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings. He had at least been striking out batters, but tonight the player who is fifth in the National League in strikeout/walk ratio didn't have it, striking out none. (Trivia: Most pitches by a Dodger pitcher this century without a strikeout ... Carlos Perez, 101 on May 3, 2000.)

Lilly put the Dodgers in a 4-1 hole, but Los Angeles came back for three in the top of the fifth inning in a rally started by Aaron Miles' first major-league home run since September 16, 2008 and ending with Andre Ethier's two-run single off Twins lefty Brian Duensing. Lilly then surrendered the lead in the bottom of the frame on a two-run homer by Luke Hughes, the 16th homer Lilly has allowed in 17 starts.

The Dodgers mounted another rally in the seventh inning, but came up scoreless in what amounted to a reversal of fortune from Sunday, when they rode two close calls to a walkoff victory over the Angels. First, Tony Gwynn Jr. was ruled out on what appeared to be an infield single that would have put two runners on with one out. Then, Jamey Carroll was thrown out on a close play trying to score on Casey Blake's single.

The Dodgers put two baserunners on in the ninth inning, but Casey Blake grounded out and that was the ballgame, leaving only this question: On what planet is it a good idea for Dioner Navarro to pinch-hit for Carroll, as occurred with one out in the final inning?
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesMagglio Ordonez is greeted by Victor Martinez after Ordonez's two-run home run in the second inning, one of four round-trippers by Detroit today.
Going into today's game, here were Ted Lilly's day and night splits for 2011:

Day: .379 on-base percentage, .566 slugging percentage, .945 OPS
Night: .284 on-base percentage, .389 slugging percentage, .683 OPS

That was before Lilly gave up three home runs in the Dodgers' 7-5 loss to Detroit today, ending Los Angeles' three-game winning streak. In short, Lilly in the daytime this year has practically been like facing a lineup of nine Matt Kemps.

Last year, the day/night OPS difference for Lilly was .796/.640. Should the Dodgers start keeping Lilly out of day games? That split hasn't been consistent over the course of his entire career, so maybe it should just be ignored, but it does have me wondering.

The Dodger offense tried to overcome the troubles of Lilly and Matt Guerrier, who got a quick hook after allowing the Tigers’ fourth homer and a single to start the eighth inning. They had their five runs and needed at least two more in the ninth inning when, with one out, Andre Ethier singled and Matt Kemp (triple, two singles, two walks, one steal) got a base on balls. James Loney’s third hit of the day loaded the bases.

Don Mattingly then did perhaps the one thing that has been most vexing about him this year — use his pinch-hitters in frustrating fashion. Instead of saving Casey Blake to bat for Dioner Navarro, Mattingly had Blake bat for Dee Gordon. No matter how raw the rookie is, I don’t know how you could think at this point that Navarro is a better bat — plus, by sending Blake up with one out, Mattingly almost infinitely increased the possibility of a game-ending double play.

Right or wrong, Mattingly watched Blake strike out and Navarro (who also left the bases loaded in the fifth inning) drove one deep to center that Austin Jackson had to run back to catch before hitting the wall. It was a well-hit ball, but with that out went the tenuous momentum the Dodgers had built for the previous three days.

Balk this way

April, 3, 2011
4/03/11
8:03
AM PT
Remember last year when Casey Blake wanted a balk called on Ted Lilly at a key moment in a Dodger loss? Well, today, a balk was called on Ted Lilly at a key moment (0:52 in this clip) in a Dodger loss.

* * *

As we had on Opening Day, we're scheduled to have a Cover It Live chat for today's 5 p.m. Dodger game. Stop by ...
Tags:

Ted Lilly

Kirby Lee/US PresswireYou've come to the right place.

Tony Jackson's Spring Training update today for ESPNLosAngeles.com focuses on Davey Lopes' tutoring the Dodgers. Some good stuff therein:
... The 45-minute session dealt mostly with the basics. But Lopes delivered his message in a charismatic, entertaining way, with a lot of the no-nonsense language one might expect from a 65-year-old baseball lifer who believes in doing things the right way, mixed with a little bit of humor.

The audience appeared to include every non-pitcher the Dodgers have in camp, and that audience burst into laughter on a few occasions, usually when Lopes would get especially animated while demonstrating the wrong way to do something.

For those who were paying attention, though, there were a lot of lessons.

For one, Lopes isn't a fan of the headfirst slide. He also isn't a fan of the slide into first base.

"There are two reasons why you slide," Lopes told the assembly. "First, to slow your body down. … Second, to avoid a tag."

And thus, Lopes said, the only time a slide into first base is justified is to avoid a tag if the player covering has to come off the bag to take an off-line throw. ...

Elsewhere ...

Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesNed Colletti is beginning his sixth season as Dodgers general manager. The team has averaged 86 regular-season victories during his tenure.
Ten days.

The Dodgers rose from the basement of the National League West in May to the best record in the league in June, then sat only two games out of first place in the division at the All-Star Break.

Yet as far as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was concerned, it was almost a mirage. During an interview at his Dodger Stadium office last week, Colletti fully acknowledged that the Dodgers' second-half fade, as much as he and everyone else tried to reverse it, came as disturbingly little surprise to him.

Ten days. In Colletti's view, that's how long the Dodgers played championship-quality baseball in 2010.

"I think the second half, in a lot of ways, was the result of the first half and the spring," Colletti said. "I can't say I had more than a 10-day period where I thought we were truly playing as well as we could play. In ’09, we had a pretty good defense, and we executed, played well in clutch situations, found a way to win games. We really hadn’t done that very much in the first half of the season. And I think it caught up with us in the second half.

"And what I did last year wasn’t acceptable. How I prepared for last year didn’t meet the results that I have for myself."

The Dodgers will arrive to spring training later this month, in many ways, a different team than a year ago, starting with a greater emphasis on starting pitching that represents Colletti's most visceral response to his roster concerns from 2010. At the same time, Colletti said the experience the returning core gained from last year's disappointment has the potential to play a significant, positive role in 2011.

"They’re professional, and this is their livelihood," he said. "And you believe there’s enough pride and adjustment and education from this past year. A lot of guys haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through in the past year. That will put them in the right place coming in to know it’s got to be better and it’s got to be more focused.

"Because they’ve (succeeded) before, I’m confident. But then, last year was what it was. I’m cautious by nature. I take nothing for granted, at any point in my life at any stage. So I don’t take it for granted that it’s just gonna happen. I think it has to be prepared in order to happen.

Translated, Colletti believes the talent is there but the effort, focus and confidence need to return. He said the offseason preparation "is done to some point, and when you get to camp now it’s going to be up to Don [Mattingly] and his staff to have certain procedures in place and certain accountability set forth. And I obviously have to support that, and they have to buy into it."


Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Matt Kemp had homered once in 31 games prior to hitting one out in each of his final five games of 2010.
Comeback kids?
Despite leading Dodgers regulars on offense, Andre Ethier never fully seemed to recover from the pinky injury he suffered in May and fed doubts about his long-term ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.625 OPS against them in 2010, .681 for his career). James Loney went from decent before the All-Star Break (.803) to disastrous after (.616). Jonathan Broxton's second-half collapse is as well-documented as anyone's, and Matt Kemp ... well, let's just say his season could have been the inspiration for what made Linda Blair's head spin in "The Exorcist."

The question, Colletti agreed, is which of the players will hit a hurdle in their development in 2010, and which have hit a wall. And it's a question that's due for an answer. Mulligans that were handed out last year won't be found so easily or at all in 2011.

"In the past, I’ve been more patient than open-minded," Colletti said. "I think that one of the toughest characteristics you have to have in these jobs is patience because everybody expects everything to turn overnight. … It doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s human; these guys are all human. They take maturation, physical maturation, all kinds of processes.

"I won’t be able to be just completely patient with it [this year]. We’re not an old team, but we’re not a team overwhelmed with rookies, either. We have experience, and a lot of our players have been to the postseason at least twice and sometimes three times in the last five years. So it’s there, it’s really kind of going back to that point and being focused about it and passionate about it and tough-minded about it."

It might surprise people to learn that Colletti seems particularly bullish about Kemp, the target of a radio critique by Colletti in April.

"I think probably from middle of August on, things became a little bit more focused for him," Colletti said. "He and I had a conversation, probably in August, that was really a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. And I was trying to take some of the weight off. I think he understands it; I think he understands what transpired last year. I think from my conversations this winter, from the last month of the season and this winter, I think he understands more than he did a year ago about himself and about the game, about preparation. So I think he’s got a chance to really have a great year."

It's possible Colletti might have said the same thing about Russell Martin, except Martin is no longer around. The circumstances of the Dodgers' decision to let Martin go rather than offer him salary arbitration weren't discussed, but Martin's recent offseason comments about "distractions" that affected him led to a broader comment from Colletti about the difficulty of playing in Los Angeles.

"Sometimes, it’s commitment, prioritization and commitment," Colletti said. "I read what Russell said, but I don’t know what the true context was or what his underlying thoughts were as to why he said it. ... There are a lot of distractions in this city. There’s a lot of different things to be doing, a lot of places your mind can wander off to, but if you’re a professional baseball player, if you’re a Dodger, you’ve got to figure out life. ... And it’s not easy to do it."

Without going into many specifics, Colletti indicated that the ability to play in Los Angeles is a factor in some trades of young players he has made. He called Carlos Santana the prospect he regrets parting with "probably more than anybody" before he added that there were a couple of other guys he would have to wait and see on.

"Again, Los Angeles isn't for everybody," Colletti said. "Sometimes we make a move on a player because we know in this environment here, they're not going to be very good in it."


Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Jonathan Broxton issued 25 of his 28 walks last season after June 23.
Pitching paradoxes
As for Broxton, count Colletti among those who see his second-half crumble as an issue of confidence, rather than health problems that might have been caused by his 48-pitch tar-and-feathering against the Yankees last June.

"He never complained," Colletti said. "And at the end, he wasn't thrilled with it, but I said, 'Jonathan, I need you to take a complete physical -- your arm, your shoulder, your elbow.' A week to go in the season. And he said, 'I feel great. I don't need to do it.' And I said, 'I need you to do it.' So he said, 'I'll do it,' and everything came back clean."

Colletti is aware of the volatility of relief pitchers, comparing them to great goaltenders who can go through "a month or two where they can't stop anything." But this awareness cuts both ways. It leads Colletti to give relievers who have performed in the past long leashes, and it compels him to have as many alternatives on hand as he can, as seen through the acquisitions of set-up men Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth and oblique references to No. 6 starter Vicente Padilla's potential to close games.

Again, however, Colletti believes that at rock bottom you can often find a trampoline. Look no further than Chad Billingsley, banished from the Dodgers' starting rotation by the end of 2009 before rising anew last season.

"Most of our young players did not experience a lot of failure as young players, minor leagues [or] early in the big leagues," Colletti said. "They really didn’t struggle. And when it finally hits you, and you do struggle for whatever reason and you're doing it in front of 45,000 people in Los Angeles all the time, on television every day, that's a tough time to struggle for the first time, for the really first time, and be able to come out of it."

Interestingly, Colletti's faith in failure recovery played a partial role in what many believe is the Dodgers' greatest weakness heading into this season: the lack of a bona fide left fielder.

Angst in the outfield
This winter, the Dodgers didn't bid on the two marquee outfield free agents, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and you can safely conclude that was a reflection of their overall contract demands and the Dodgers' budget. But when it came to alternatives, Colletti was wary of blocking two Dodgers outfield prospects who could each be major league ready a year from now, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands, especially after the experience Robinson had in Jacksonville last summer.

"Robinson last year started off slow in Double-A, and we stayed with him and he figured it out," Colletti said. "That to me was huge. Because he's gonna have to figure that out. Because everybody struggles up here."

There is the caveat that it's not as if the current Dodgers never struggled in the majors or minors before 2010 -- one could easily make the case that they did, but that their subsequent triumphs blotted out the memory. In any event, if he had found a signable veteran outfielder worthy of a multiyear deal, Colletti no doubt would have pulled the trigger. But he does feel optimistic over the long term about what he has.

"If I would have signed a left fielder for three years, who was again not one of those robust guys -- I’m not sure there was a guy out there -- then I’m really kind of blocking one of those two kids, and I’ve got faith in both of them," he said. "Hopefully, not this year. Hopefully, it’s a year from now, but I have faith in both that they’ll be able to play and contribute. And actually I told them both that, too, in the fall -- I told Trayvon way back in the summertime, 'It’s important for me to know who you are and how you play. Because you know what, Manny’s not gonna be back next year. And I’ve got to make a decision whether I’m gonna go and tie up his spot for three or four years, or be patient and mix and match for a year and wait for you.'"


Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake had an .895 OPS against lefties last year, .663 against righties.
In the interim, Colletti is under no illusion that he has gold in the third outfield slot, so the Dodgers will essentially play it by ear in the outfield, with Mattingly looking at matchup opportunities for Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul (if he makes the squad), and on an infrequent basis, Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll.

"Right now Matty's the center fielder," Colletti said. "Andre’s the right fielder. I want to see what Tony can do offensively. He’ll play as much as the offense allows him, I think ... using the whole field, bunting more, figuring out ways to get on base, because his on-base percentage isn’t high even when he hits .270. See if he can become more disciplined at the plate, use his speed more to get on. I don't expect power out of him. I don’t expect gap power out of him, but I would like to see him get on base a lot more, because if he does it perhaps changes the dynamics in the outfield.

"And in the meantime, I’ve got two guys that can hit, one from the left side and one from the right side -- actually two from the left side with X. Paul and Gibbons, and then Thames. ... And perhaps they’re five- or six-inning guys, and then you go defense later. But you’ve got two guys that might be able to hit 20 homers between them."

Third base offers a secondary question for the Dodgers because, while Blake is sure to start against lefties and some righties, no one seems to be beating the drum for him to play 146 games like he did last season. With the Dodgers' minor leagues fairly thin at second and third base, this time Colletti took the plunge on a multiyear stopgap in Juan Uribe.

"Our system’s produced a lot of guys," Colletti said. "But except for really [Ivan] DeJesus, we don’t really have a second baseman that’s on the verge of being here. We have a shortstop coming probably in Dee Gordon and after him [Jake] Lemmerman, and right now third base is a bit of an open spot too -- we had [Pedro] Baez in the Cal League last year. So Uribe, while the on-base percentage isn’t Moneyball-ish or whatever, the run production is still pretty good, in that he can play second, short or third, and we don’t have anybody that’s going to press him at third for a while, and really De Jesus is trying to transition to play second. I needed somebody I can run out there who’s a big league guy."

Because of what he sees as a potential benefit to have Uribe play some at the hot corner, Colletti emphasized that De Jesus has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder. Obviously, someone like Carroll could also make several starts to allow Blake to rest.

In any case, Colletti is aware of how much a juggling act the Dodgers' everyday lineup has become. Though he has in one sense traded last year's lack of a fifth starter for this year's lack of an everyday left fielder or third baseman, Colletti sees the two situations as apples and oranges.


Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier, 31, has allowed 11.5 baserunners per nine innings in his career.
Never enough
"You really didn’t have in my mind many choices that were going to be able to play every day," Colletti said. "We had to fix the pitching first, and we had to upgrade the bullpen if we could.

"You can’t finesse pitching. Maybe a day here or there, but you need to have it. And the list [of available pitchers], we were kind of picking near the top of the list, even though it isn’t sexy to say you signed Ted [Lilly] or Hiroki [Kuroda], it’s not necessarily 'wow,' but it’s solid. It gave us a little bit of depth. So we had to start there. The kid from Minnesota, Guerrier, is gonna be a good add for us. He’s pitched in a lot of big games; he’s always had positive results.

"It’s the most volatile group, but once [Joaquin] Benoit got three years and [$16.5 million], that’s what people expect to get ... and if you really need a guy, sometimes you have to go the extra distance to go and get him."

Add together the total commitments the Dodgers made to their free-agent signees of this past offseason, and you barely pass the total value of Adrian Beltre's deal by itself, while falling short of the Crawford or Werth contracts. And like it or not, Colletti was not going to enter another season shy on pitching or dependent on unproven rookies such as James McDonald or Scott Elbert.

"I was apprehensive all winter long last year" Colletti said of the starting pitching. "I knew we were short going in; I knew we weren’t going to be able to rally it. In the spring, J-Mac and Scotty both struggled. We may have sent them both out early, in fact, because they couldn’t throw strikes; they were all over the board. So right from the beginning, I knew we were going to be short. I didn’t know how we were gonna mix and match, and we couldn’t afford an injury certainly."

If there's an ongoing concern on everyone's minds, it's how the Frank McCourt ownership crisis is affecting spending on the team on the field. You can argue that different owners might have allowed Colletti to sign one big-ticket free agent in addition to shoring up the pitching, but Colletti doesn't contend that the divorce itself is having an impact on personnel.

He also makes the case, as McCourt did a year ago, that the Dodgers are aiming to spend more money to deepen their prospect population.

Farm aid
"We've had basically the same [major-league] payroll," Colletti said. "Though we dipped a little bit last year, we're coming back this year. It's not really how much you have, it's where you spend it. We do have to get better at international signings; we have to reinvest there. I think we've let Venezuela slip for a few years, and we've made some changes in the staffing.

"We've done a decent job in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] -- not what we did 25 years ago, but with all due respect, 25 years ago there wasn't 30 teams down there, either. So, it's not like we could just cherry-pick the players we want like we probably did at the outset of the country opening up to having players signed. But we do have to get better at that to support our player development system. It's been fruitful. Obviously, a lot of players are in the big leagues now that we drafted, but we have to keep flowing, and they have to keep getting better. I know we've hit a touchable lull right now and I think we're probably a year or two away from having another group come forward."

[+] EnlargeZach Lee
Chris Carlson/APLogan White escorts newly signed Zach Lee in his Dodger Stadium visit in August.
Colletti didn't rule out the Dodgers' top draft choice of 2010, Zach Lee -- whose signing shocked most baseball observers -- being part of the Dodgers' graduating class of 2012. Amid the height of McCourt tensions, Lee received a $5.25 million signing bonus, a record for a Dodgers' draft pick. The previous record-holder, Clayton Kershaw, reached the majors less than two calendar years after he was picked, and Lee could do the same.

"We really liked this kid," Colletti said. "We really liked his makeup, his demeanor, his abilities, athleticism, his toughness. ... Not only are the physical skills different than most kids you see, but the way his mind works is different ... probably from playing at the highest levels at a couple of sports, including going to LSU for a summer and having that experience, which as long as he didn't get hurt it didn't bother me."

Colletti's hope is that the Dodgers' minor league pitchers drafted in previous years allow Lee as much time as he needs to develop. There was an epidemic of setbacks among the farm system's arms in 2010 -- so many that if Colletti wants to see who can overcome hurdles, wish granted.

"It's concerning to me," he said. "Probably a lot of the guys that we could both probably name should be a year farther along than they are. They've all struggled with command. … Some are converted players, some weren't pitchers necessarily in high school or college. So they're still learning that.

Curing the epidemic
And to circle back to the beginning of our piece, in some ways, older players never stop learning and developing. Witness Colletti's additional assessment of the contagion that struck the Dodgers' offense in 2010:

"I think hitters sometimes without results start to get impatient, so they start to chase out of the zone," he said. "They’re trying to build more offensive numbers in a quicker period of time and so they’re not as diligent to work the count, and all that stuff starts to compound through the course of it. ... When people are starting to slump, sometimes it produces more guys that go in that direction than less. And that’s what started to happen. It started to spiral where one guy struggled and then two. And then the third guy saw the other two and then he struggled, and it continued to mount."


Alex Gallardo/APDavey Lopes will switch to a Dodgers' uniform for the first time since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.
When you take Colletti's view of what went wrong with the Dodgers last year and what's needed to make it right, it makes sense that he sees one of the most promising offseason moves as one that even some jaded Dodgers fans embraced: the hiring of Davey Lopes as a coach.

"I've known him a long time and I've admired him," Colletti said. "You know, I was with him in Chicago when he was still a player and I've certainly watched him from the other side of the field when he managed and when he was coaching. And I think what he brings here is -- you're talking about first -- someone who was an iconic Dodger who understands Los Angeles and understands the Dodgers and was here during one of the greatest periods in our franchise's history. That's important.

"What he did in Philly with baserunning and defense and fine-tuning that position, the first-base coaching position, to make it a far more valuable position to the organization, is something we noticed. And I think he's going to have a great impact on our club. I think there are some players that could turn their game up a notch with his instruction, with his thought process. I think, while it's a coaching position, I think it's a huge addition for this franchise."

Will a new manager, new coaches, new players and new spirits be enough to right the Dodgers' ship? It's too soon to say, but if the Dodgers are to play more than 10 days of great baseball in 2011, Colletti will expect to see strong signs of it before Opening Day arrives.
For me and, I would venture to say, most of my readers, $800,000 is a whole lot of green. But for the people of Major League Baseball, it's not exactly a lot of money — for example, it's roughly one month of Jose Uribe's salary over the next three seasons.

But $800,000 appears to be the amount that sent the Dodgers and Russell Martin their separate ways.

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti told reporters Thursday that as the deadline approached, Martin's agent, Matt Colleran, lowered his pitch to $5 million in base salary (plus incentives). According to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, the Dodgers were offering a base of $4.2 million.

We can debate all day what salary Martin actually deserved, but given that the two sides were this close, I'm a bit surprised the deal didn't get done. If you think Martin has the potential of helping at all in 2011, I don't know why you'd let less than a million bucks stand in your way. And if you are that skeptical, I'm not sure why you'd be offering even $4.2 million.

But what do I know? Not much. Each side had its magic number, and sometimes, you can't fool with magic.

* * *
  • Here's a fun take on the main Hall of Fame ballot from Wezen-Ball.
  • From The Onion: "Baseball Players Hold Annual Meeting To Discuss Benefit Of Wearing Index Finger On Outside Of Mitt."
  • Here's an attempt to project Ted Lilly's 2011 performance from Jeffrey Gross at the Hardball Times.
  • Brian, I hope George Costanza brought you some nice sandwiches.
  • Finally, Dodger Thoughts favorite Buddy Carlyle has signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees, after a stint in Japan. Welcome back, Buddy!

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.
Ted Lilly's contract is backloaded, reports Beth Harris of The Associated Press. Factoring in the distribution of his signing bonus, Lilly will earn $7.5 million in 2011, $12 million in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013. For your own sanity, I think it's important for you to mentally reverse those figures and make Lilly a $13.5 million pitcher next season (similar to what Hiroki Kuroda made) and a $7.5 million pitcher in 2013. Trust me, you'll sleep better.

Lilly also has a no-trade clause through the end of the 2012 season, Harris says.
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Ted Lilly

The Dodgers held a mini-press opportunity tonight related to the Ted Lilly signing, and general manager Ned Colletti told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and other reporters that the Dodger player payroll budget would rise for 2011, though he didn't say by how much. So the news value here is: It's not going down.

Elsewhere ...
  • Some nice and arguably thrilling pictures of the Kirk Gibson auction items were posted by Roberto Baly at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy. Gibson is raising money for his foundation, which supports "Michigan State athletics and to help fund partial scholarships at the two Michigan high schools where his parents taught," according to The Associated Press. Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News explores the question of why this stuff hasn't gone to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Ivan DeJesus, Jr., who had a single, double and homer today in Arizona Fall League action, is profiled by Danny Wild of MLB.com.
  • Former Dodger Takashi Saito is officially a free agent. Per a clause in his contract, Atlanta could not offer Saito arbitration.
And now, this ...

<a href="http://www.bing.com/videos/browse?mkt=en-us&from=sharepermalink^facebook&vid=97794e63-2bca-4774-9686-5fc412275d54&from=en-us&fg=dest" target="_new" title="Homeless Man Lipdubs Under Pressure">Video: Homeless Man Lipdubs Under Pressure</a>
Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details of Ted Lilly's signing becoming official, to the tune of $33 million over three years. The figure isn't surprising, given that Lilly was averaging $10 million per year in his last deal — and in fact, the average of $11 million per year is lower than the $12 million Lilly made in 2010, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
The Dodgers and Ted Lilly will re-up with each other for three seasons, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles, citing an anonymous source. No details yet on the dollars. Here are my thoughts from September about resigning Lilly, who will be 37 in the final season of the contract.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.90 130 124
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .308
HRA. Gonzalez 15
RBIA. Gonzalez 65
RD. Gordon 54
OPSY. Puig .915
ERAC. Kershaw 1.92
SOC. Kershaw 134