Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Can we please sign Chien-Ming Wang

When Torre came to the Dodgers, I thought for sure we'd end up landing A-Rod after he opted out. But no dice. If Torre (along with high school teammate Hong-Chih Kuo) can lure Wang to the Dodgers, though, that would be delightful and justify his managerial stint in LA.

Wang has had injury issues the past couple of years, and it really affected his performance in 2009. In 2007, his last full healthy year, though, look what he put up:

30 GS, 199.1 IP, 9 HR allowed, 2.7 BB/9, 4.7 K/9

While the low K rate is nothing to write home about, his ability to keep the ball in the park and in play is quite good.

But really, if you want a low-K guy who can get you through some innings, Wang would be a good pick, and he can potentially be a really good one. He's probably cheap because of the injuries, but he'd look good in the back of the rotation, and he would bring some nice variety with the strikeout guys Billingsley and Kershaw as well as Kuroda.

2010 Dodgers Rotation

That would be fun, right?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stealing bases in 2009

Just for fun, I figured I'd check the breakeven percentages for basestealing in 2009, and I came across a startling discovery, which I'll come to later.

When deciding whether to steal, one must weigh the risks against the rewards. If one steals successfully, there is a base gained, which is nice, but you still have to have some offense do something. If the runner is caught, then not only do you lose a baserunner, but you also lose an out. Further, there are situational issues at stake too. If you steal a base in front of a guy who is going to hit a home run, then you gain nothing except fantasy points. If you get caught stealing in front of a guy who is going to hit a home run, you lose a run. When the batter is a patient line drive hitter, stealing bases can be more advantageous. In general, though, you can look at a nifty little tool that Baseball Prospectus has on its website called the Run Expectancy Matrix. From this, you can determine the break-even percentages, defined as the percentage of stolen base attempts that need to be successful in order for the attempt to have been worthwhile. Here are the breakeven percentages for each scenario:

Stealing second, runner on first only

0 out: 70.1%
1 out: 73.3%
2 out: 69.4%

This is the most standard stolen base situation. Your leadoff guy reaches and is the only one on, often a speedy fellow. You want him to be successful about 3/4 of the time at least, and in 2009, that was actually a little more than enough. All about getting something going with a guy in scoring position.

Stealing second, runners on first and third

0 out: 76.6%
1 out: 79.2%
2 out: 92.8%

This is a much stricter standard than stealing with a runner on first only. Why is that? Well, there is a runner in scoring position. A base hit will yield a run, and even a flyout will with less than two outs. Further, one should figure that if you've gotten runners on first and third, you've been getting to the pitcher pretty effectively already. Holding onto precious outs would be more important now. Especially with 2 outs; if caught with 2 outs, you risk losing a chance for a dinky little single to score you a run.

Stealing third, runner on second only/runner on first and second:

0 out: 83.3%/76.9%
1 out: 67.8%/71.4%
2 out: 87.0%/87.3%

Having a runner on second with nobody out can come from either a double, a single/walk followed by a wild pitch, balk or steal, or an error throwing to first. In any event, it reflects that your opponents are having a tough time with pitching and/or defense, and you should not ruin that too early. With one out, though, it's a huge dropoff and I don't know why. Presumably a runner on 2nd with one out more often corresponds to a single/walk followed by a bunt or some other productive out, or suggests that the pitcher is a bit more adept at getting batters out, and the sac fly is probably not a bad way of trying to get a run across. Again, stealing with a RISP is not a good idea with two outs. Adding the runner on first makes this a bit more worwhile with nobody out though not as much so with nobody out, but is still a bad idea with 2 outs. It's still better to try to steal third with 1 out, for some reason.

Double steal, runners on first and second catcher throws to third (default)

0 out: 60.0%
1 out: 54.9%
2 out: 81.0%

Can you believe how much more valuable it is to have the guy behind you try to steal too? This doesn't factor in the weak possibility of a double play on a double steal attempt. But still, most players can achieve that kind of stolen base percentage, so the double steal is really not a bad idea. The tail runner doesn't appear to be as important since it always makes more sense to attempt to throw out the lead runner, particularly with nobody out. One has to think you try this more with a right-handed hitter who's not a big power guy up, like Russell Martin or Orlando Hudson.

Double steal, catcher throws to second

0 out: 45.4%
1 out: 54.9%
2 out: 81.0%

This is something that just won't happen unless the catcher screws up. But it could happen, and it helps to be successful here. It could also happen if the third baseman was caught completely off guard or is just really poor defensively, or if the catcher feels more comfortable with the second baseman backing up the shortstop, or if you know the tail runner is a lot slower or got a much worse jump. Still, this has to be a split-second decision, so don't expect your opponent's catcher to do that.

In any event, the double steal should be much more popular than it is. Baseball Prospectus looked at it a couple years ago, and many managers are more risk averse with this. One would assume it's because they want to make sure both runners are good basestealers, and most teams don't always have a pair of guys who can do that.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Who is to blame for the Dodgers' shrinking lead?

The Dodgers haven't continued toward a pace of winning 100 games on the year, and many are blaming the bullpen, but that might not be accruate.

Consider the following splits before and after the all-star game:
Casey Blake
1sthalf: .285/.364/.486
2ndhalf: .255/.333/.426

Russell Martin
1st half: .258/.373/.314
2nd half: .264/.328/.352

James Loney
1st half: .281/.350/.402
2nd half: .265/.342/.368

Manny Ramirez
1st half: .385/.487/.669
2nd half: .264/.365/.424

As for Manny, one thing is clear: the Dodgers should have signed Adam Dunn. Dunn is in his prime and can be reliably counted on for 40+ homers (and 150+ strikeouts). Dunn seemed to be a viable option when negotiations got funny this offseason. Now it could be that Manny is just not having fun playing baseball anymore. It could be that he hasn't been able to have sex in months because the banned substance was treating his sexual dysfunction well. It could be that he needs to take a whiz in left field and he doesn't have the Green Monster for that anymore. Or it could be that Manny is getting old, and while he's had his burst of glory earlier this season, the Dodgers might have signed a guy that can deliver a .850-.900 OPS for the year rather than a guy who delivers a 1.100 OPS. That's not bad, except that it makes him a monumental waste of money.

I admit to screwing this up, but I should have remembered that anyone can be hot for a couple months, but the players are still human, and humans become less athletic in their late 30s. Or Manny could have just hit a bad spot.

But even if not all Manny, let's take a look at the other three guys. Casey Blake has always been a first half guy, but he shouldn't be hitting high in the lineup. Orlando Hudson always starts strong offensively, and fizzles after about May or so. Furcal will either be awesome or suck. Martin isn't even walking anymore, and the Dodgers should think about where they're going to get another catcher if he doesn't have anything left. James Loney has the curious scenario of losing power every year he's been in the majors. September is always his best power month, but he'll have to do quite a lot to get back up to speed. And by up to speed, I mean make a case to be tendered a contract next year.

Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier right now are the Dodger offense. I'm glad we have them, but we need for Blake, Hudson, Furcal, Manny, Martin and Loney to hit the damned baseball too.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Deadline Assessment

On a team that's in first place with the best record in baseball, what could they possibly need more of? A tough question, given that the Dodgers have been pretty darn good all year, and just about everyone on the roster has been solid. Let's examine:

Starting Lineup:
Martin. While he hasn't been hitting for any kind of power, you have to appreciate how he's gotten on base so darn consistently. Looking at his splits, though, pitchers tend to pitch around him with runners on base, and he's more likely to take the walk, thus the low RBI totals. But given how Dodger catchers, or any catchers, usually perform in the second half, let's hope he'll be an outlier this year.
Loney. Loney doesn't have the power you want for a first baseman, but he does tend to deliver with runners in scoring position. Frequently. He's more aggressive than Martin, and he still has a little bit of pop, or at least more than Martin. And for his career, Loney has an ISO power of .143 in the first half and .191 in the second half - he hits the ball harder later in the year. Like in the NLDS. So I'm not giving up on him. And for what it's worth, he seems to be one of Ramirez's favorite guys on the team.
Hudson. The All-Star reminded us of the risk the Dodgers took when signing him - he's fragile. If he's not healthy, the Dodgers have Blake DeWitt to back him up, which isn't a bad thing. Hudson is more of a first half player anyway, though; while he'll probably be useful for a while, the Dodgers may have seen the best of him.
Blake. Surprisingly good, the Beard has come through for the Dodgers offensively, posting a .279/.362/.472 line. Blake does tend to perform at a lower level in the second half, although that is almost entirely due to a lower BABIP. So we might still be able to depend on Blake.
Furcal. In 2006, Furcal was off to a terrible start, hitting .267/.345/.346 before the first half while dealing with nagging injuries. In the second half, though, he hit .339/.399/.564 with 11 HR in 298 AB to lead the Dodgers to the playoffs, where JD Drew and Jeff Kent ruined everything. In 2007, Furcal began the year with a .273/.341/.354 line. No problem, he'll just have a great 2nd half again, right? Wrong, he hit .266/.322/.355 while dealing with more injuries. We're hoping he's more like 2006 this year, although maybe he needs to feel more of the pressure that year. Someone else, though, has been stealing the spotlight, and his name is...
Manny. He's been good except for when he was naughty and punished. He might have legitimately had sexual dysfunciton, but it's easier to smear him as a juicer. Fair enough. In any event, people largely seem to accept that he's done his time and it's time to move on. Or they're sick of hearing about steroid users. In any event, he's OPSing 1.000 and he's happy where he is. That doesn't make a difference in his performance, but the ESPN guys want you to think it does. Juan Pierre had a great run in his absence, but his last few games he's seeing fewer pitches, etc, like he's not in Beast Mode anymore.
Kemp. Can you say superstar? "Matt Kemp is probably nicknamed the Bison because he's tougher than a Robot Made of Nails." Kemp is hitting for better average than last year, and he's showing better plate discipline as well, posting a .321/.385/.500 line so far. His power and speed numbers are looking solid too, and his defense has been remarkable, including his pre all-star break overhead backwards catch to end the game.
Ethier. Hitting for power, and likely to be the first 30 HR Dodger since Beltre in 04, Ethier is having a relatively rough year at the plate. He's been striking out a lot more, which has pulled his average down to .254, and his walk rate is a bit better too. Ethier's BABIP is way down this year, and while his LD rate is down slightly and could fluctuate, his FB% is up and GB% is down by a lot, which will significantly drop his average. Granted, his HR/FB% is nice at over 15%, but he'll have to improve a bit or cut his K rate down a bit to get back to where he wants to be.

The offense is amazingly not a problem for this year's Dodgers. While some more power would be nice, that will come with more plate appearances for Manny, and a good second half from Furcal and Loney. Like 2006, they lead the league in OBP, and they will probably still leave a lot of men on base.

The Dodgers pitching is...also very good. But let's look at what might be improved:

Chad Billingsley appears to be hitting a rough patch. His ERA has soared to 3.76, and the biggest problem seems to be Torre not pulling him - either when he's thrown over 100 pitches ing the game or 30 pitches in an inning. Sure he's the staff ace, but at 24, he's still a young pitcher, and the Dodgers have an 8 man bullpen.
Clayton Kershaw looks like he's in a groove. His 2.91 ERA and 8.8 k/9 are the nicer stats, although his walk rate is a bit troubling. He is avoiding the worst true outcome, though - he's not giving up the long ball. Having surrendered 5 in 106 innings is remarkable, and will help him get away with his success.
Randy Wolf has given up the long ball more, but doesn't let other guys on base. With a rotation leading 1.1 WHIP, he's been quite good for the Dodgers. There haven't been any health scares this year (and he pitched 190 innings last year), so the king of the no-decision looks like he deserves some respect.
Hiroki Kuroda still seems to be getting back into things, but he seems to be in line with where he was last year. He'll have his rough spots, and then he'll be brilliant, and for the most part he'll be pretty good. When you have Billingsley and Kershaw, he's a good player to mix in. Still works efficiently.
Eric Stults continues to be a useful surprise, but doesn't seem to get his spot in the rotation.
Jeff Weaver performed decently enough as a swingman so far, and he'll probably continue to be good in that role. His peripherals do not support his ERA at all, so unless he can be an extreme groundballer, he may drop off.
Jason Schmidt must be watched for the next couple games. If he can hold up for 5 or 6 innings a start, that would be a great lift to the Dodger rotation. To have a rotation of Billingsley, Kershaw, Wolf, Kuroda, Schmidt with the minor leaguers the Dodgers have would give them a lift; it wouldn't be Halladay, but it wouldn't be as costly.

Jonathan Broxton showed us that with a healthy toe, he's still the dominant guy he's been all year. Looking a lot like Gagne in 03 but with a higher walk rate and an even bigger waistline, Broxton has struck out 70 in 42 2/3 innings and only surrendered one homer. That's dominance.
Ronald Belisario came out of nowhere, and now he's hurt and the Dodgers are worried. There might not be more talent in nowhere. Or is there?
Ramon Troncoso has peripherals more like Wade and an ERA more like Wade last year, but he's been the man in 09.
Guillermo Mota has worked his way back to being respectable. Having surrendered only 3 homers in 44 innings, Mota is no Broxton, but he can get us there.
Brent Leach is a good situational lefty guy, and the rookie has been put in some high leverage situations with mixed results. It's encouraging to see Torre give him a shot, though.
James McDonald looks more comfortable in the bullpen than in the rotation, having posted a cool 2.35 ERA as a reliever with a 1.239 WHIP. Don't know if that's what the Dodgers want to do with him, but they might have to consider it as an option.
Claudio Vargas - "Sir Not Appearing in this Film"
Scott Elbert - has struck out 12 and walked 2 in 11 innings. That's not a lot of innings.

Extra depth for the rotation and/or bullpen would be nice, but the Dodgers could accomplish that by bidding money for Ben Sheets more effectively than bidding players for Roy Halladay. Besides, wouldn't a clubhouse of Sheets, Loney and Ramirez be hilarious?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Manny being Banny-ed

"Did you know that you can fool the breathalizer test by chewing on activated charcoal tablets?"
"Well, maybe we should change our slogan to "If you must drink and drive, suck charcoal."
"Won't the police ask about the charcoal in your mouth?"
"There's not a law against charcoal."
- Thank You for Smoking

Manny Ramirez tested positive for drugs in violation of the MLB policy. The most useful bit of information to be found in this ESPN story:
Ramirez and his representatives were prepared to appeal the synthetic testosterone results, intending to argue he had taken a steroid precursor known as DHEA, according to two sources. The drug is akin to the now-banned substance famously known as Andro, but it is not on baseball's banned list. (emphasis added)

Baseball had geared up to dispute the argument, and a Ramirez appeal was scheduled for last Wednesday. MLB's legal team intended to use expert testimony to cite evidence it believed showed DHEA could not have been the cause of the synthetic testosterone.

This makes for a nice messy and technical legal dispute, and while it's kind of messy, it is legal, interestingly enough. But the story gets more interesting:
However, in the days before the hearing, the union turned over Ramirez's medical records -- and they turned out to be a boon for MLB.

Within the records was a prescription written for the drug human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) -- No. 55 on the list of banned performance-enhancing substances in the policy. The drug is mainly used for female fertility issues, but it is best known among male steroid users as a substance that can help kick-start the body's production of natural testosterone, which is stymied when using synthetic testosterone (aka steroids).

That stuff probably looked like this, innocently enough. And while sources indicate that there were problems with his testicles that let him to use the drugs, he failed to get a proper medical exemption. Players can get a Theraputic Use Exemption (TUE) under the drug policy, as is stated here:

1. A Player authorized to ingest a Prohibited Substance through a valid, medically appropriate prescription provided by a duly licensed physician shall receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption ("TUE"). To be "medically appropriate," the Player must have a documented medical need under the standards accepted in the United States or Canada for the prescription in the prescribed dosage. A urine sample which is found to contain a Prohibited Substance will not be deemed a positive test result if such sample was provided by a Player with an effective TUE for that substance. A Player with a TUE for a Prohibited Substance does not violate the Program by possessing or using that substance.

2. A Player seeking a TUE must notify, or cause the issuing physician to notify, the IPA of the existence of the prescription. Whenever requested to do so by the IPA, the Player shall provide, or cause the issuing physician to provide, documentation
supporting the issuance of the prescription. If the issuing physician is not duly licensed in the United States or Canada, the IPA shall request that the Player provide such documentation. The IPA shall notify the Player and counsel for the Association of any request for documentation. Following his/her review of such documentation and, if necessary, consultation with an expert in the area covered by the prescription, the IPA shall determine whether to grant the TUE. The IPA shall report that determination to the Player and to the Parties and, in the event of a denial, forward to the Parties the documentation received and all other material reviewed in reaching that determination. (See Section 9.C.1(c) below.)

3. A TUE shall be effective from the date the Player notified, or caused the issuing physician to notify, the IPA of the existence of the prescription involved, and shall not be effective for any use or possession of a Prohibited Substance prior to that date. A Player who is determined not to qualify for a TUE may not challenge a determination that he violated the Program by contending, in connection with a "no fault or negligence" defense or otherwise, that he believed he would qualify or had qualified for a TUE; however, a Player is not otherwise precluded from introducing evidence of medical treatment in support of such a challenge.

We don't have a lot of time. And it's going to be a lot harder because you're gay now.
- Deleted scene from Team America: World Police

Ramirez is probably most upset that his doctor did not inform him that he was using a banned substance. It is also possible that he has stopped taking the substance recently, and as a result is crying a lot more. But seriously, my guess is that Ramirez was prescribed a brand name of the drug, not the generic name, because that's what doctors prescribe to you, and if he asked a couple more questions or if his doctor told him, he might have been ok (it's also possible that his doctor was a Giants fan). In any event, Manny is planning on suing the doctor, because doctor mistakes do happen.

So what we know is that Manny was using a suspicious substance that was legal, and an illegal substance for a legitimate medical reason that he didn't get approved by MLB. It is likely that upon realizing that he could not get an exemption from it, and it certainly could not be a retroactive exemption, that he gave up and figured to do his time. It would appear that Manny's failure to perform due dilligence in taking care of his own personal, er, ball team has caused him to let his baseball team down.

Brian Wilson must not be a Forgive and Forget Christian

Wilson was upset that Casey Blake mocked his gesture which he frequently does at the end of games, which is apparently in honor of his faith and his late father.

The Dodgers won't face the Giants again until Aug. 10 in San Francisco, but Wilson told reporters in that city that he has "a pretty good memory."Wilson didn't deny that Blake's gesture could intensify the rivalry between the clubs.

"It could be a catalyst if you want to look at it that way," he said.

"There's always something to fuel the fire. You're always looking for some excuse to get riled up."The incident so upset Wilson that he wouldn't speak to reporters about it Sunday and had to be consoled by teammates.

Asked whether Blake's actions surprised him, Wilson said, "In this day and age, everyone's got some meaning behind what they do. Whether a guy crosses home plate and points to the sky; he's not just pointing to the clouds, right?"

Well, when you consider that Barry Bonds always went with that last example, you kind of wonder. It could be that one is attempting to appear pious, since that's what you assume when someone points to the clouds. But really, there is plenty of genuine persecution of Christians in the world, and it is an insult to those who genuinely suffer, and to other members of the faith, to claim that merely being offended or mocked amounts to persecution. Particularly in the case of Blake and Wilson, where this was not about religion, it was about mocking a closer and getting in his head.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Scouting Without Looking - Russell Martin

One of the biggest puzzles for the Dodgers this season, last night's walk-off walk notwithstanding, is what happened to Russell Martin offensively? Right now, he's hitting .198/.301/.247, compared to Brad Ausmus' .462/.500/.538. Granted, that could be part of his plan to go deeper into the season by making playing Ausmus look appealing, but the unavoidable fact is that Martin isn't hitting worth shit. Looking at his Fangraphs page, these are the numbers that stand out:

K%, HR/FB, IFFB%, FB%, CB%, ZSwing%, Swing%, OContact%, FStrike%

Based on those bits of information, here's what I would say:

To start off, Martin has been fooled a lot more, going for pitches out of the zone that he can't get, yet not going for good pitches in the zone. As a result, he's striking out more than he ever has (about 10% more of his ABs), and he's not getting the kind of hits he would want yet. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he's inviting pitchers to throw first pitch strikes more with his patient approach, and he should swing at that pitch down the pike on the first pitch, at least every so often to mix it up, especially when pitchers are throwing you a lot more first pitch strikes. He's 1 for 8 on balls in play that he's made contact with on the first pitch, but he's a career .316 hitter on those pitches.

Of course, part of that could just be a bad first month, but after the All-Star Break last year, he hit .260/.371/.336, relying heavily on his plate patience, and it would appear that pitchers are exploiting that now.