Friday, June 7, 2013

Will Andre Ethier Still Be A Dodger Later This Season?

If someone were to tell me the Dodgers were going to be in the cellar of the NL West during the first week in June, I would have thought they were making a really bad joke. Obviously, I would have been wrong.

You can point to a lot of factors responsible for the disappointment thus far, with strained muscles topping the list, but management has decided to also point a finger at outfielder Andre Ethier. Earlier this season, Don Mattingly made a statement that he was looking for players that had "grit" and "put the team in the best position to compete on a daily basis". It wasn't so much the statement that stirred up controversy among the baseball community, but Donnie's actions following the statement certainly did when he started recent call-up Scott Van Slyke over a benched Andre Ethier in right field. Mattingly made sure to emphasize the fact that the message was meant for the whole team, but it was really hard to ignore the fact that Ethier was the only starter benched that day.

Let's face it, Dre's numbers this year leave much to be desired, triple slashing .232/.321/.356. While he has maintained a decent on-base percentage of .321, both his average and slugging percentage make me cringe, as they are by far the lowest in his career with Los Angeles. What makes these stats even more alarming is that Ethier doesn't even have an excuse at the moment, playing at full health, free of nagging injuries.

So what gives? Why is he so mediocre at the dish this season?

To put things in perspective, the vintage Andre Ethier we as Dodgers fans all love so much hasn't been a legitimate league leader in driving in runs since 2009. That was the last year Ethier surpassed either 25 homeruns or 100 RBIs in a season. Hard to believe its been that long, hasn't it? I had to double check the stats myself but they don't lie; its been four long years since Ethier was a real force to be reckoned with at the plate.

To add to the growing concern over Ethier's future with the Dodgers has been the recent call-up of outfield prospect Yasiel Puig, and his immediate success and impact with the club. Its hard to believe a player can be called-up, and in less than a week, run one of the Dodger's core players pretty much out of town, but it seems to be happening, and happening fast. The only reason why management may keep Ethier around for a little longer than people think coincides with the update on Carl Crawford's injury, which seems to be more serious than originally diagnosed. He went from only needing the minimum 15 days to recover, to being out for a month, possibly longer depending on how the hamstring reacts to physical therapy. You can almost guarantee though that Andre will be dealt before we reach the trading deadline this season, and most likely sooner, if Crawford comes back before then.

Since Ethier will most likely be packing his bags sooner rather than later, it doesn't hurt to evaluate just what kind of value he commands.

What is he worth then?

If we look across the board in every offensive category over the past four years, Ethier has either maintained, or dropped his production, which is only a sign of more disappointment to come as he is on the wrong side of his age 30 season. That isn't to say he still doesn't hold value, as his offensive averages over the past three seasons are still slightly above league average for a right fielder. He definitely is not worth the $85 million over 5 years the Dodgers agreed to sign him to in June 2012, marking the first major move made by the new ownership. I can guarantee you there is not a single team out there willing to pay the full amount of Ethier's contract no matter who the Dodgers get in a return trade. They are, in the literal sense of the phrase, going to have to buy back Ethier's contract at 50 cents on the dollar before he is marketable to other teams. If the Dodgers were to do that, his contract would look something like $40-$45 million owed over the next 5 years, which is much closer to his fair market value. Once ownership is able to bite the bullet and fork out the cash, they can begin the search of finding a suitor for the lefty outfielder.

There is also something to be said about his value on a day to day basis as well. Currently, his numbers are probably the worst they are going to be all season, marking his lowest value to this point. We as Dodgers fans all know what kind of hitter Ethier is though, and all it takes is for him to ride a two week hot streak for those numbers to stabilize, which will boost his value and marketability across the league.

Looking at the Dodgers current roster and assessing what area needs the most help, it is easy to see we need another arm, or arms and maybe a decent young infielder with a lot of upside. Our bullpen hasn't been very consistent yet this season and I feel it requires the most attention, but if the right starting pitcher came along, that offer would also be very hard to pass up too.

So, who would be interested in a guy like Andre Ethier? Looking at all the different teams in contention and players out there the possibilities seem endless. Having said that, lets approach the issue based on which team would benefit the most from his presence and go from there.

One team I think could definitely benefit from having Ethier in their lineup is the Boston Red Sox. Besides Ellsbury in center field, Boston doesn't have an outfielder in a non-platoon role. On a day-to-day basis, they're starting whoever matches up best against the starting pitcher on that given day in left and right field with Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, and Jackie Bradley Jr.. Having that consistency of an everyday run-producer would serve Boston well, and would solidify the #5 or #6 spot in their batting order. In return, the Dodgers could ask for one of their many young infield talents. Two guys that stand out to me are Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco. Both are better known for their gloves than their bats, but are also young enough to develop into more legitimate threats at the plate. The more promising prospect of the two in definitely Iglesias, as he is only 23 years old and is capable of playing 2B, SS, and 3B. If Boston were to be unable to part with Iglesias, then Ciriaco wouldn't be a bad second option, but he would need to come as a package deal with a good reliever as Ethier holds much more value than Ciriaco alone.

Another team that could require the services of Andre is the Texas Rangers. As many of you have been reading, their starting right fielder Nelson Cruz has been named in the Biogenesis scandal and could potentially be facing a suspension later this season. The ballpark in Arlington is also a hitter's haven, and Ethier's power could potentially translate very well, leading to a spike in his homerun total. The only issue I see with Texas comes down to who the Dodgers would receive in return for Ethier. Its been widely publicized that the Rangers have a logjam of major league talent on their infield depth chart, with Jurickson Profar being the odd-man out. The Dodgers acquiring Profar would be wishful thinking on our part though; to put it in black and white, Profar could command a much better return than Andre Ethier and I think Texas will hold onto Profar until the right offer comes along. Having said that, I had another thought. What about Ian Kinsler? He is one of the best hitting second basemen in baseball, right behind Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano. And he is making a ton of money, currently signed for 5 years/$75 million. If the Dodgers ate a good portion of Ethier's contract, and sent them a young arm from the farm with Ethier, they may be able to catch the Ranger's interest, just because they would be unloading $35-40 million off the Ranger's payroll, as well as solving their logjam problem by opening up second base for Profar. Again, that is probably wishful thinking considering the lack of power hitting second basemen in baseball, a unique skill Kinsler possesses.

Probably the most interesting place I thought Ethier might end up is right where the Dodgers originally acquired him from, Oakland. They are one of the few teams in baseball who currently have a surplus of major league ready pitching at their disposal, and they could definitely use the offensive boost Ethier would provide. The biggest complication arising from a deal with the A's comes down to payroll. Oakland is not financially equipped to take on a contract as large as Ethier's, even if Los Angeles were to pay off a large portion of Ethier's contract for Oakland, I'm still not confident they would be interested. Their bread and butter is finding player's that are sabermetric anomalies and utilizing them in platoon roles depending on day to day matchups, and many of those players have salaries at or near the big league minimum. This makes the financial gap between Ethier's contract and anyone on the A's roster too large, leaving very little room for compromise.

Just looking across the league, there are still so many contenders in each division it makes it really difficult to determine who in fact would be interested in acquiring Ethier at this point in the season. Andre's numbers may not be as impressive as they were a few years ago, but he still is considered a very legitimate run producer that could be the difference maker on a team in need of a lefty bat. Whether Ethier is one of your favorite Dodger players or not, you have to tip your cap to the man for his many years as a contributing force in right field. Teams and players rarely are able stay together throughout an entire career, and all we can do now is thank Ethier for his past services and support him in his new endeavors moving forward.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tomorrow marks the start of the 2013 MLB First Year Player's Draft. Who are the Dodgers Eyeing as a Potential First Round Pick?

Well its that time of the year once again, folks. Time to pull out the spreadsheets and laptops in preparation of this year's MLB Draft. Its an exciting time for clubs, who will use every resource they have in their front office and scouting system to try to land that elusive, Hall of Fame franchise player.

Last year, the Dodgers made a surprise move, going against the tradition of drafting a pitcher in the first round, instead electing to go with high school shortstop Corey Seager with the 18th overall pick. This year, again holding the 18th overall pick, it seems the Dodgers will return to their draft roots, with heavy speculation that their first round pick will be a high-profile pitching prospect. Before I start naming off possible prospects the Dodgers will pursue, lets answer a big question I'm sure many fans are asking. Why pitching?

As you look around the diamond for the Dodgers, its easy to see we don't have much depth in terms of young infield talent. Even looking at our Farm system, which has been greatly diminished by the recent acquisitions of big name players like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, the most promising prospects the organization was able to retain are mostly pitchers.

So why draft more pitching?

As a rule of thumb, organizations in general, usually draft to their strengths, and without a doubt, the Dodgers strength is developing strong starting pitching. Two recent examples being Chad Billingsley, taken as the Dodgers first round pick in 2003, and staff ace Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers first round pick in 2006. As the organization begins to acquire these pitching prospects and develop them, they eventually end up with a surplus of young, strong arms which are then utilized in trading situations to get missing pieces of the puzzle, whether that be a power bat, a shut-down reliever, etc.

Keeping this strategy in mind, it is likely that the Dodgers will consider multiple different pitching prospects when deciding who will receive their first pick.

Now lets get to the prospects, their numbers, and most importantly, their potential.

As draft day has gotten closer, and high school/college stats are rolling in, the draft pre-rankings are constantly shifting. One pitcher that is definitely on the Dodgers radar, and at one time was considered to potentially be the best left-handed arm is the draft is Indiana State's starting pitcher Sean Manaea. He made 13 starts for Indiana St. this year, posting a record of 5-4, with an impressive ERA of 1.47. He threw 73.1 innings, and struck out 93 hitters, which comes out to 11.45k's per 9 innings pitched. The allure behind a college draft pick is the relatively short amount of time it takes for them to be serviceable at the major league level, as compared to a pick used on a high school prospect. Proof of this accelerated development can be seen with last year's draft pick of Paco Rodriguez. The lefty specialist out of the Dodger's bullpen was the first overall player from the 2012 draft to make an appearance at the major league level.

It seems that Manaea would be a great pick for the Dodgers if they were after an arm coming from the collegiate level, but as recent draft history has shown, the Dodgers have had a lot of success going for high school arms (staff ace Clayton Kershaw and 2010 first round pick Zach Lee) as well.

Two high school arms that seem to have caught the Dodgers attention in this year's draft are left-handed Matt Krook, and right-handed Devin Williams. Krook, the more well-known prep arm from Northern California, stands at an impressive 6'-4", sporting a fastball in the mid-90s and is considered to be one of it not the best left-handed prep arm in the draft. Williams, the lesser-known righty from Hazelwood West High in Missouri, stands at 6'-3" and has had his fastball clocked in the low to mid 90s.

While neither of these pitchers may be as developed or refined as Manaea, their upside is tremendous and will be hard for the Dodgers to pass up when it is their turn to draft.

It is worth noting, but highly unlikely, that if the Dodgers do decide to look at prospects in an area other than pitching, many believe they will follow last year's move and select another infielder. When looking at the farm system, one can easily see that adding infield depth will be a main priority of management moving forward.

While it is easy and fun for us fans to speculate on who the Dodgers may take in this year's draft, for the organization and it's staff it has been a long year of scouting, and diligently doing their homework to ensure our team comes out ahead of the rest. With the Dodgers history of developing hall of fame arms and a little luck on our side, we could be well on our way to drafting the next Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, or dare I say, even the next Clayton Kershaw.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Cuban Kid Has Done It. Chavez Ravine is Abuzz Once Again!

Well, what can I say.

Writers would have had a hard time scripting a better debut for Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig in his first appearance with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Well, I suppose if Puig would have hit a homerun, that would have been pretty impressive as well. Having said that, we saw 4 of the 5 tools scouts have raved about Puig possessing, and he definitely didn't disappoint.

Let's review those tools.

He made contact in every plate appearance of the night, going 2 for 4 as the Dodger's leadoff hitter, a bold move by manager Don Mattingly given the pressure Puig must have already been feeling in his first Major League start. This ability to make contact at a high rate will be crucial to maintain as long as he is leading off (which will probably be the case until Carl Crawford returns from the 15-day DL).

Not only did he make his presence known at the plate, but also on the basepaths. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Puig reached base on his second hit of the night, a ground ball deflected by San Diego's first baseman Kyle Blanks that ended up in shallow right field. Punto then came to the plate and lined a base-hit to center field that looked as though it would hold Puig to advancing just one base. The Cuban rookie showed how he was able to steal 13 bags for the Lookouts though, as he picked up his stride coming around second and steamed into third base, seemingly outrunning a pretty solid throw from San Diego's center fielder Alexi Amarista.

We saw quite an offensive show from Puig, but what about his defensive skills? I assure you, he did not disappoint in this area of his game either. In the top of the ninth inning, with Chris Denorfia on-base (and the crowd holding their breath giving Brandon League's recent performances), Kyle Blanks ripped one deep into right field. Puig showed great outfield instincts as he drifted back onto the warning track, all the while keeping his eyes focused on the fly ball, making the difficult catch with little room to spare between his back and the outfield wall. It didn't end there, as he set his feet and threw one of his "Cuban Missiles" to Adrian Gonzalez at first, catching Denorfia a few inches too far off the bag as it would turn out, resulting in a game ending double play.

The stadium roared in applause, and Chavez Ravine came alive in a way seldom seen so far this season. I personally jumped up from my couch and proceeded to scream and shout like a little kid, as I'm sure many other fans did when watching the play unfold.

In Yasiel Puig's debut, he showed off his ability to make great contact at the plate, displayed his electric speed on the basepaths, successfully gloved everything hit in his general direction, and most impressively, let loose a throw unlike anything I have seen from a Dodger's right fielder in a long, long time. Puig's power may not have been on display in his first game, but being a "dead pull" fastball hitter, it would have been very unlikely to see him go yard against a slow throwing, crafty left-handed pitcher like Eric Stults.

When a highly touted prospect finally makes their major league debut, it doesn't always turn out the way fans envisioned it would, luckily in the case of Yasiel Puig and Dodger fans everywhere, his performance was nothing short of fantastic and mesmerizing.

Tomorrow evening the Dodgers will square off against San Diego in the second game of the three game series, facing struggling left-handed starter Clayton Richard who sports a record of 1-5 and an inflated ERA of 7.86. First pitch scheduled for 7:10 PM PT.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Yasiel Puig is Now a Member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Is He Ready?

After Sunday's game against the Rockies, its easy to see something drastic needs to happen, and needs to happen soon if the Dodgers are going to keep their playoff hopes alive for the 2013 season. You hate to blame injuries as the leading cause of the recent struggles for the club, but its hard not to when only 2 of the Dodgers opening day starters made appearances in today's game, those players being Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonz├ílez. As many of you already have read, the most recent Dodger to be a victim of the disabled list is our starting catcher, AJ Ellis with what is considered to be a minor oblique strain. The move was made not necessarily because the injury was severe enough to warrant the required 15 days, but more importantly to free up a spot on the 25-man roster. And with 2 catchers besides Ellis on the roster, that decision was really a no-brainer.

As I am writing this post, it has just been made official; Yasiel Puig has been called up and is now a member on the Los Angeles Dodgers roster. All I can say is, it's about time. I know management was a little gun-shy about promoting the Cuban sensation, but current trends lead me to believe the youngster has a great chance at flourishing with the big club. Many younger, while arguably more talented prospects, have been making an impact at the major league level at an alarming increased frequency over the past 2 seasons. A few prime examples of these call-ups include the 20 year-old Bryce Harper, 21 year-old Mike Trout, and 20 year-old Manny Machado. While its a bit early to compare the 22 year-old Puig to these young superstars, its not out of the question to think he can have a successful breakout performance early in his major league career. True, Puig is much more raw in terms of his baseball skills, compared to the more refined play of other young stars, but there's no denying his athletic ability which will help make up for any "polish" his game lacks. A current major league player that some look to as having the same style of play as Puig is fellow Cuban player, Yoenis Cespedes, outfielder for the Oakland Athletics. Coming into the league as a rookie last season, many questioned the abilities of Cespedes in the same way they are going to be questioning Puig. The talent is there, but what about the maturity and ability to adapt to adversity? As we saw as evidence of last years stats, Cespedes proved to be everything the A's had hoped he would be and more.

Puig grabbed the attention of many Dodger fans this year when he put on a hitting clinic during Spring Training, hitting at an unbelievable clip of .517/3HR/11RBIs in 27 games. Many thought he should have broken camp as a member of the big club, but the front office felt he needed more seasoning, and I have to say at that point in the season, I felt it was the right move. With a healthy Kemp, Ethier, and Crawford to patrol our outfield, it would have left little to no room for Puig to mature as a hitter without getting at-bats on a consistent basis.

Now, let's take a look at Puig's double-A stats up to this point in the season. His "traditional" stat line looks like this: .313/8HR/37RBI. As sabermetrics have become a bigger part of the game, let's take a look at some of his other stats that may be a better indication of how skilled the young outfielder may be. Let's take a look at his OPS. For those of you who don't know what OPS is, it is summation of adding a players on-base percentage to his slugging percentage. By combining these numbers, we get a statistic that tells us not only how successful a player is at getting on base per at bat, but also at what frequency these successful on base attempts go for extra bases. This season, Puig's OPS is .982. Now, I couldn't find the average OPS for a double-A player this season, but according to Bill James, one of the founding fathers of Sabermetrics, a player who maintains an OPS of .900 or higher throughout an entire major league season is considered to be in the top echelon of players, as he wrote in his essay "The 96 Families of Hitters". Obviously double-A isn't the Major Leagues, but its a promising sign for the young Cuban slugger, and should translate fairly well against more formidable pitching opponents. If we take a look at the last 10 games that Puig has appeared in, his stats prove to be even better than his 2013 averages, sporting a .355 average with 6 extra-base hits, 2 of those being homeruns, with an OPS of 1.131.

As a die-hard, dedicated Dodger fan, I cant help but be overly enthusiastic and excited about this recent roster move. While many around the baseball community may be skeptical about Puig and how well his minor league success will translate, I feel that the recent success of young players for other organizations across the league is a good sign of things to come. While you hate to put so much pressure on a rookie to come up and make an impact, the Dodgers organization and its fans really have no other choice at this point, as injuries have ravaged our roster and left us on life-support going forward this season. It may seem like things are getting desperate for our boys in blue, but I wouldn't count the Dodgers down and out just yet, as Yasiel Puig may have something to say about where we're headed over the remainder of the season.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Unsung Heroes

With the season being such a let-down to this point I think its necessary to look at the bright spots every once in a while. After all, there's a reason why we're fans, and it isn't that fun to moan and complain all the time. Its much more fun and satisfying to recognize the few players that have been excelling as of late, and provide a glimmer of hope for the future. Two guys in particular that I would like to point out are Juan Uribe and Nick Punto.

Now, some of you more casual, weekender fans will wonder why I'm bringing up these guys. In Punto's case, he has had to step up in a major way and fill in pretty much as a full-time player with the numerous injuries our big name players have suffered. And in Juan Uribe's case, its has been a bit of luck that he has fallen into this much playing time, mainly due to Luis Cruz having a dreadful season at the plate. While you guys may be skeptical, I assure you, the numbers don't lie.

In the last 8 games, Juan Uribe is 9 for 17, hitting a robust .529 with 5 doubles, 3 RBI, 2 BB, and 3 runs scored. While he hasn't gone yard during that span, the 5 doubles is definitely encouraging. I know that most of you guys have probably given up on Uribe at this point in his time with LA, but he is quickly approaching free agency which could be the key to motivating him into once again mashing like he did in his San Fran days. I do not expect him to keep up his astounding pace, but I don't think its out of the question to see him finish the season with a respectable average, probably in the .250-.260 range, and producing around 10HRs, which would be more than anyone expected out of the struggling veteran. As long as he's swinging a decent bat, Donnie should be plugging him into the lineup at third base on a consistent, daily basis.

Onto Punto. Let me just say that I saw his above-average performance at the plate coming, judging by how he was a one man wrecking crew for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic back in March. On the season, Punto's line stacks up as follows: .309/1HR/10RBI and 17BB in 110 at-bats. He is the definition of a "table setter" and is usually one of the guys left stranded on base inning after inning. With the imminent return of Hanley Ramirez, I see a drastic cut in Nick's playing time coming, and a short rest may be just what the doctor ordered, as the wear and tear of an everyday player has taken its toll on Punto. He was held out of Tuesday's game against the Angels with back stiffness, which I believe was the main contributing factor in the decision to start Cruz today over Punto. Even putting offensive numbers aside, I have seem some pretty impressive defensive plays out of Punto both at shortstop and third base. That kind of "super utility" ability is invaluable to a team, and he plays the role quite well.

You always hear the big names being dropped when discussing the poor performance of the Dodgers to this point, but when the little guys come up big for us you never hear them get their due credit. If it weren't for the unsung heroes like Punto, Uribe, and even Schumaker you can guarantee we'd be even worse off then we are currently.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Identifying Reasons for This Year's Struggles

Very disappointing. I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with the team since the second week of the season. Is it no heart? Is it poor managing by Donnie? Is it the injury bug? Refusal of the front office to utilize minor league talents? Is it team chemistry?

If you ask me its a culmination of all the above, but the team's statistics don't lie. We are almost, if not dead last in batting average with runners on base. There's no "clutch" if you will, with the exception of Adrian González. Now, how do you remedy this problem? Since the front office refuses to call-up fresh faces from our farm system, Donnie is forced to throw out these questionable lineups in which we have our back-up catcher as the DH (designated hitter)..... that's not okay. I know last night he hit a homerun, but we all know that performance and production is nowhere near sustainable. To add to Mattingly's "power outage" problem is the short staffed starting rotation. Assuming Greinke continues to build on his recent outings and he returns to vintage Greinke form, we have 3 capable starters, which would be good enough for most teams in most divisions, but not for the NL West where pitching is the dominant/driving force. We need one more reliable arm that we can depend on to earn more wins than losses and keep us in games. A guy that at minimum will go out and give us a quality start (which is defined by 6 complete innings of work, giving up 3 earned runs or fewer). Don't even get me started on our bullpen; to put it bluntly, its a train wreck of a mess right now. I will say though, if we are still in contention by the All-Star break, the pen can be revamped through trades and the waiver wire.

There are just too many negatives at this point for our beloved Dodgers to just all of the sudden turn it around. Its not like we are having a streak of bad luck, frankly, our guys are just playing below expectations and its been going on for a while. If they want to turn it around, they need a new form of motivation, a fresh outlook on the season, and most of all that cut-throat attitude where winning is valued above all else. There's no room for egos when your team is in the cellar, and if they can't check that elitist attitude before they step onto the diamond, I'm afraid its going to be a very long season.