Friday, July 10, 2015

Greinke vs. Scherzer: All-Star Starter Tale of the Tape

With a few days remaining before the All-Star Game, Bruce Bochy still has to decide which horse he wants to ride to start for the National League. 

Sorry, Bruce, but Madison Bumgarner is not one of those horses he should be considering.

It's basically down to Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer, who've each been terrific to say the least.  Let's take a look at each, and try to decipher who should get the ball in the first inning.

Zack Greinke: 18 starts, 8-2, 1.39 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, .191 BAA, 106 K's in 123 1/3 IP
NL Ranks: 1st in innings, ERA; 2nd in WHIP

The Case for Greinke: The guy has a 1.39 ERA at the All-Star break.  That's the lowest at the ASB since 1968.  It's also the fourth lowest at the ASB since World War II.  He's currently on a scoreless streak of 35 2/3 innings.  Last night's 6-0 win over the Phillies was his fifth straight scoreless start.  He's retired 35 of his past 36 hitters.  He hasn't allowed a runner to third base in the past 27 2/3 innings.

Need I say more?

There's not much Greinke can't do right now, save for literally being absolutely perfect in each outing, but he sure is close.  He's in his contract year, and is pitching like a guy who will blow the roof off of free agency this offseason (following in Scherzer's footsteps from last year).  Whatever the motivation, he's clearly not only the hottest pitcher in baseball, but probably the best.

Max Scherzer: 17 starts, 9-7, 2.12 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .188 BAA, 143 K's in 123 1/3 IP
NL Ranks: 1st in innings, WHIP, complete games; 2nd in ERA; 4th in wins, ERA

The Case for Scherzer: There might not have been a better pitched three-game stretch in the history of baseball than what Scherzer did in June.  First he pitched a complete game, one-hit, 16-strikeout shutout over the Brewers.  Then he came within one hit batter of tossing a perfect game over the Pirates, settling for "only" a no-hitter.  He capped it off by retiring the first 16 batters in Philadelphia before finally giving up a hit in the sixth.  It was simply amazing watching him.

That alone might get him the start, as he was as close as you can possibly be to untouchable in those starts.  He's allowed two earned runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts, with 10 of those being one run or less.  His strikeouts have been very impressive, tallying six starts in double-digits.

The Nationals haven't run away with the NL East like most experts thought they would, but on a team with some question marks, Scherzer has far and away been the top dog.

The Verdict: This is a really tough call, as you're pretty much flipping a coin between two phenomenal pitchers.  In a perfect scenario, they'll each give the NL two shutout innings in the ASG.

However, if Bochy is looking at his best chance of winning the game, then Greinke is the guy.  He's simply peaking at the perfect time.  While he's riding a five-game scoreless streak, Scherzer is coming off his worst outing of the season, giving up five runs while not making it out of the fifth inning against the Reds on Tuesday.  It was clearly a blip on the radar, as he was sensational in his starts before that... but so was Greinke, who's been even better.

If I had to take a guess, I get the feeling that Bochy will lean towards Scherzer, simply because he's been getting more press this year.  There's not much Greinke can do about that, because he just quietly goes about his business as most of America is asleep.  Scherzer gets the luxury of more eyeballs on his starts.

I'm hoping Bochy will show some NL West love, and not deny a Dodger pitcher from rightfully starting the ASG for the third straight year (Clayton Kershaw was bumped for Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright).  Plus, Greinke would make a better choice to start because he won't fall victim to being too pumped up by trying to blow everyone away.  That was the old Greinke.  The new one is all about locating and changing speeds, and that's exactly what he'll do in the first inning.

Both men have already made their last starts of the first half, so they've done all they can do.  I just think Greinke has done a little more, and should get the nod for the start.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"What's an All-Star Game without Clayton?"

That's the rhetorical question posed by A.J. Ellis after Wednesday night's game.

Considering Clayton Kershaw just got done polishing off the Phillies with a complete game, 13-strikeout, shutout performance in a 5-0 win, it's one plenty of people around the game are asking too.

Left off the roster by both the players' vote and manager Bruce Bochy, Kershaw also saw his name in fourth place out of five in the Final Vote before toeing the rubber at Dodger Stadium.  What followed was his best performance of the season, and even more encouraging was how he rose to the occasion with runners on base, as the Phillies did get eight hits.  That's what's been crushing him earlier this season.

With his final start before the All-Star break in the books, Kershaw finds himself first in the National League in strikeouts (160) and second in innings pitched (123).  Digging a little deeper, he's tied for third in all of baseball at a 3.7 Pitcher's WAR with Chris Sale.

Yet, he still finds himself on the outside looking in, and as of now, it's going to stay that way.  Keep in mind that as we get closer to the actual game in Cincinnati next Tuesday, there will need to be injury/rest replacements.  Any pitcher scheduled to throw this Sunday can either be replaced, or choose to throw just one inning.  The rules are a little petty, but also understandable in a way as they're meant to protect the arms.

Ignoring the 6-6 record because of the Dodgers' awful runs support (Zack Greinke only has seven wins, which is criminal), Kershaw has lowered his ERA a full run from 3.86 at the end of May to 2.85 right now.  One thing he's been constantly mentioning as something he wants to improve upon is how deep he pitches into the game (we all are, considering how terrible the bullpen is).  Last night he went the distance for the first time, and since the start of June, he's hurled at least seven innings in six of his eight starts.  Not bad.

But, once again, it might not mean anything as far as the All-Star Game goes.  And you know what?  Maybe that's not a bad thing.  I heard John Smoltz, soon to be enshrined into Cooperstown this summer, say on MLB Network that Kershaw should just enjoy the rest and get ready for the second half.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked that idea.

While everyone wants the honor of being an All-Star, it's not like he hasn't been there before, as he's made the previous four.  He's actually scoreless in those games, pitching an inning apiece.  In 2012, he loaded the bases but wiggled out of it, and other than that, has barely been touched.  So, he's proven that he can get it done on that stage.

Don't get me wrong, I would be thrilled if he does get in, as he's proven since June that he most certainly deserves it.  I'm just saying that if he doesn't, taking over a week off from starts isn't a bad thing at all.  He's been going nonstop the last couple of seasons between the regular season, All-Star Game, and postseason, without a breather.  This could be a rare chance to get one.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pederson's an All-Star... but let's face it, he's struggling at the plate

Joc Pederson was honored with his first All-Star selection on Monday, joining a few of his Dodger teammates.  Right now he's third in the National League in walks (56), fifth in home runs (20), and 10th in slugging % (.502).

He also has a chance to be a starter if Matt Holliday can't comeback from a quad injury.

Things are going very well for him, no doubt.

But now comes a dose of reality: Pederson has struggled more and more as each month passes by.

Here are the numbers to prove it, as we look at his average and slugging % by the month:

April: .298 AVG, .596 SLG
May: .236 AVG, .519 SLG
June: .222 AVG, .495 SLG
July (5 games): .059 AVG, .111 SLG

No matter who the player is, those aren't pretty numbers that continue to dip more and more each month.

Look, I'm a big fan of Pederson.  It's hard not to like a guy who can patrol center and make amazing catches with such ease.  He sure as heck is a big upgrade from watching Matt Kemp struggle there at the beginning of last season, giving away one run after another.

This isn't about his defense at all.  In 164 total chances this year, he only has two errors, good for a .988 fielding %.  He's quickly turned himself into one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

I'm focusing solely on his numbers at the plate, where he's regressed a little more and more as the season has gone on.  He puts all of his eggs in one basket, as he's all about the power.  Well, over his last 13 games, he's hit two doubles and one homer.  Everyone goes through slumps, but he only has six hits total over the span, so it's not like he has a Plan B to go to.

One area that he's been consistent in is unfortunately strikeouts.  Over that same 13-game span, he's struck out a whopping 17 times.  In fact, he's currently leading the National League in strikeouts at 99, placing him fourth in all of baseball.  I know power guys will experience their fair share of K's, but it's getting harder to ignore when it seems like every game lately he's walking back to the dugout instead of around the bases after a big hit.

By the way, here's his strikeouts by the month: 22, 37, 35, 5.  That's a lot of swings, and a lot of misses.

I'm not trying to rain on Pederson's parade, as based on his overall play, he deserves to be in the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati.  Along with guys like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa, he's one of the most exciting young players in the game.

But I am saying that there's still plenty of room for improvement, and it starts with the little things like cutting down on his swing with two strikes, and not being so "homer happy" in any circumstance.  As the Dodgers go through the ebb and flow of scoring runs, he's a huge part of that hitting leadoff most games. 

Some adjustments at the plate can go a long way.  He just needs to embrace that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Four Dodgers are off to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati

The Dodgers were shut out of any starters for this year's All-Star Game, but they certainly weren't for reserves.

Congratulations are in order for Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, and Zack Greinke for representing the Dodgers in the National League.  All very well-deserved picks.

Clayton Kershaw is one name not on the list, but he still has a chance to be added via the "Final Five" voting.  Simply put, if the fans want him in, he'll have to beat out Troy Tulowitzki, Johnny Cueto, Jeurys Familia, and Carlos Martinez.  It's hard to ever guess how this voting process can go, so it's a toss-up right now.

Two names who had a chance but are on the outside looking in are Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen.  Turner is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering he's .312 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs, and has taken over full-time duties at third base for the departed Juan Uribe.  I think he still has a chance of getting in once injury replacements are named.  Jansen has a bit of a chance with 13 saves and a 1.93 ERA, but losing some time with the injured foot didn't help his cause.

Both Greinke and Pederson have great chances at ending up being starters.  Greinke is 7-2 with an NL-leading 1.48 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.  He next pitches on Thursday, which lines him up perfectly to pitch the following Tuesday on full rest.  Of course, Bruce Bochy also can say the same about his own Madison Bumgarner, who will be on four-days' rest.  Max Scherzer will be on a full week of rest, and it's hard to ignore his numbers, too.

Pederson could quite possibly sub for Matt Holliday, who is battling a sore quad.  If Holliday can't go, then an outfield of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen (subbing for Giancarlo Stanton), and Pederson would be young and fun to watch.  He will have to compete with A.J. Pollack and Justin Upton for the honor.  On the season, Pederson has smacked 20 homers and 35 RBIs, though he's struggled a bit with a .234 AVG. 

A-Gon will be making his fifth appearance, and first as a Dodger.  He hit a home run in his last appearance in 2011 with the Red Sox.  This year, he's hitting .291 with 23 doubles, 15 homers, and 50 RBIs.

It's great to see Grandal getting the final nod at catcher behind Buster Posey and Yadier Molina.  Hopefully he can sneak at least one inning in, as those two could probably go the full nine if they wanted.  Grandal leads NL catchers with an .881 OPS, just above Posey.  Not bad.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

With each start, Greinke gets more expensive. And that's fine with me.

If you're Zack Greinke, you're sure loving life right now.

Coming off another masterful performance, seven shutout innings in a 4-3 win over the Mets on Independence Day, Greinke now has a 1.48 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 17 starts, to go along with a scoreless innings streak at 27 2/3.

Life is good.

What's even better is that after this season, he has an out clause in contract that would allow him to test the free agency market.  Before the 2013 season, he inked a six-year, $147 million deal.  He's earning a cool $23 million this season, along with a $2 million signing bonus.

Those are some huge numbers, but in today's baseball world, he can probably get even more dough if he keeps putting up blanks like this.  Take Max Scherzer, for example.  He turned down the Tigers' offer of a $144 million extension, rolling the dice that he could get north of $200 million.  After posting monster numbers last season, he was right, as he signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals.

What works even more in Greinke's favor is Scherzer's success this year.  Rather than getting the money and seeing his numbers slip, he's been even more dominant this season at 9-6 with a 1.82 ERA and 0.78 WHIP.  He also has a no-hitter, and is seemingly in contention for one every start.

With Scherzer's success comes the increasing likelihood that Greinke will choose the same path.  It's the old "gamble on me" way of thinking that can be somewhat dangerous.  That is, somewhat dangerous for people who have not allowed one run or less in 13 of his 17 starts.

One thing that is working against Greinke is simple: his age.  He'll be 33 next season, and the magic number of 30 for pitches is when they usually start to go downhill.  But, if you read Buster Olney's article on him (sorry, Insider only), then you'll see that rival evaluators believe he can keep replicating his success because he's in the mold of a Greg Maddux: that is not, not a power pitcher, but a guy who hits corners, changes speed, and has a great arm slot on his release.

As of now, there's no way the Dodgers can't throw the bank at him.  It's not like they can't afford it!  The new analytics-driven front office might not like giving that much money to someone his age, but he's clearly the Dodgers #1 need heading into the offseason.  Yes, he's been that good.

Or, if Greinke truly cares about getting more wins (he's 4-3 right now), then he'll stay with his current contract, or even offer to give some of that money to get better middle relief.  It took all of two innings for clowns like Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, and Pedro Baez to nearly blow a 4-0 lead.  Imagine if the Dodgers could score more runs and protect the lead in the middle innings more often.  Greinke might have 30 wins by now.  Kidding, of course.  Kind of...

Anyway, as Clayton Kershaw is still looking to be more consistent with his location, Greinke has vaulted into the #1 pitcher for the Dodgers as they lead the NL West.  I'm pretty sure that fact isn't lost on Greinke's representatives, who will look to cash in on his terrific numbers this offseason.

Let's just hope he cashes in with the Dodgers.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

For the first time, I seriously wonder if the Dodgers will trade Puig

Let me start off by stating this: I am not advocating for the Dodgers to go ahead and move Yasiel Puig to another team.  If I'm the GM, I'm not pulling the trigger on that right now.

But let's also get something straight: for the first time since Puig came to the Dodgers in 2013, I'm starting to seriously wonder if the Dodgers will be open to trading him.  That's how crazy things are getting with him.

I have no knowledge this will happen, or that the front office is even thinking about it.  I'm just a huge fan who happens to follow his favorite team very closely (hence, me writing this blog), and I call it like I see it.  Puig looks uninspired, and combining that with all the recent reports of just how negative a clubhouse influence he has been, it's gotten me to this point.

In 34 games this year, Puig is hitting .286 with three homers and 10 RBIs.  That's right - he's barely a home run threat anymore, and with runners in scoring position, he's hitting an even worse .152 (5-for-33).  What stinks even more is that with RISP and two outs, he's a pathetic .059 (1-for-17).  I don't care who you are, that's really bad.

Don Mattingly recently made a bit of news when he challenged Puig to start adjusting his hitting. He didn't get into specifics too much, but it doesn't take a baseball whiz to guess that Puig is probably not the type to study video of the opposing pitcher's tendencies, or to study his own video for how to improve his mechanics.  It's see the ball, swing as hard as you can, and hope for the best.

Now that he's been in the big leagues for about two full seasons, pitchers are doing a much better job exploiting his weaknesses, such as fastballs inside and breaking stuff away.  If he showed any desire to make adjustments at the plate, do you really think Mattingly would make such a statement when he first came back from injury?  That's doubtful.

In the field, Puig can still flat out catch and it and throw it.  Nobody can take that away from him, which is why he's still so valuable to the team.  His body language, however, continues to disappoint.  He somehow looks even more bored and annoyed when he's catching fly balls, as if he can't possibly believe a hitter would dare test him.  I know he's always done that, but it looks even worse now.  It shows his head is not where it should be.

So basically, he's not hitting that well, and his moodiness carries out onto the field on defense.  Throw that together, and add in the front office's desire to cleanout all of the nonsense that has plagued this team in the past, and the writing might be on the wall.  Maybe not this year, but in the offseason, Puig could be on his way out.

Right now Puig is in the middle of a seven-year, $42 million contract he inked starting in 2012.  He's earning $4.5 million this year, and that will tick up another $1 million until it's over following the 2018 season.  Considering how bloated many contracts are, this one is actually very team-friendly, and one many other clubs would jump at to bring into the fold.

The best thing Puig can do is to simply WAKE UP.  Have a plan at the plate that doesn't involve swinging for the fences that he rarely clears anymore, or swinging and missing while trying to stay in his cleats.  It wouldn't hurt to also look like he gives more of a crap in the field as well.  Oh, and no more reports of being a freakin' prima donna like when he first came up.

If changes aren't made, then like I said above, I really am starting to think the Dodgers will want to trade him.  That was once unthinkable to me, but not anymore.  He is who he is.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cahill comes in, and League goes out

A couple of news items on the pitching staff...

* Trevor Cahill has been signed to a minor league deal.  He was recently with the Braves, where he got canned after going 0-3 with a 7.52 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.  Um, that's not good.  No wonder he got released.

There has been plenty of good in Cahill's career, as he was an All-Star in 2010 with Oakland, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and .220 BAA.  That was by far his best year, as his numbers started to slide the next year.  A move to the Diamondbacks in 2012 didn't exactly help, as he had an ERA in the high-3's for a couple of years, but was horrific last season with a 5.71 ERA in 32 games (17 starts).  He was a complete disaster with the Braves in three starts this year.

If you're the Dodgers, you probably figure, What the heck?  Give it a shot and see what he can give you.  Maybe down the stretch he teams up with Brandon Beachy and gives the Dodgers some good starts at the end of the rotation.  If not, then it's a very low-risk signing, so no harm done.  We'll see what happens.

* In a bit of a surprising move, the Dodgers have decided to DFA Brandon League, who was on a Minor League rehab assignment for about a month.  If he clears waivers, he can either accept another Minor League assignment, or be released. 

How much will League gather if he's sent home for good?  Try $7.5 million.  That'll probably make him feel a little bit better when he's sitting on the couch sipping iced tea.  Or maybe something stronger.

Anyway, League was really good on rehab, giving up only one run in 10 2/3 innings.  Despite that, with his 30-day rehab window coming to a close, the Dodgers did not see enough out of him to bring him back to the big club.  His fastball barely reached 90 mph, and his hard sinker was largely a thing of the past.  That's not too surprising considering his right shoulder had long been giving him problems.

For Ned Colletti, this is yet another signing that proved to be a major flop, much like Brian Wilson, Jason Schmidt, and Matt Guerrier in the past.  Mega-bucks to guys fading in their careers, and it cost them.  While League was very good to close out 2012 (6-6 in saves, 2.70 ERA), he was mostly horrendous in 2013-14, getting the boot at closer for Kenley Jansen, and largely being relegated to mop-up duty.

Give Andrew Friedman this - he's not afraid to eat money if it means improving the team.  Wilson is being paid $10 million to get the hell away from the Dodgers, and barring some team shockingly wanting League at this point, he'll be paid $7.5 million to do the same.  That's a lot of dead money, but oh well.

Kendrick at 2, Turner at 3 works just fine

Through all of the lineup changes the Dodgers have undergone this year, one tweak should stay: Howie Kendrick in the 2-hole, and Justin Turner at 3.

Want proof?  Check out these numbers:

Kendrick at #2: 6 games, .542 AVG, .586 OBP, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB
Turner at #3: 13 games, .277 AVG, .382 OBP, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 11 RBI

Any questions?

Obviously, you can't expect Kendrick to continue hitting that well, and Turner isn't exactly a home run threat.  But right now, it's all working out, and there's no reason to toy with it.

What each man has going for him is that they're both described as being "professional hitters."  They're prone to slumps like anyone is, but they're also experienced enough to figure things out and not keep the slump going for long.

With the All-Star Game approaching us, both guys should receive plenty of consideration.  Dee Gordon will get the start at second for the National League, and deservedly so.  Kendrick will have competition from Joe Panik, Brandon Phillips, and Kolten Wong for the backup spot.  It'll be close.

It'll be tougher for Turner to get in, because the NL is loaded at third.  Todd Frazier, Matt Carpenter, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant are just a few names, not to mention someone like Matt Duffy.  Hopefully he can get in based on his versatility, and can be the NL's "super sub" for late in the game.

All-Star nod or not, these two have been steadying influences on a team that has gone through many injuries, and many inconsistencies at the plate.  They're both locked in right now, and should keep doing what they're good at.

I still say Yasiel Puig should be the leadoff hitter, as he's not hitting home runs, but is fast enough to beat out infield hits, and takes some walks.  Don Mattingly can then pair up Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson in the 4-5 slots, and even Yasmani Grandal when he's swinging a hot bat.  That's a pretty good lineup.

But it all circles back to keeping Kendrick at two and Turner at three.  Donny, please don't mess with that!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

So far, the Dodgers are winning the Kemp-Grandal deal

Back on December 11, the Dodgers and Padres pulled the trigger on a deal centered around Matt Kemp and Yasmani Grandal.  It had been discussed for awhile, and when it finally happened, it was the end of an era for Kemp in LA.

It seemed like Dodger fans were split right down the middle on this.  Those who liked the trade pointed out how Kemp was often injured, on the downside of his career, and that Grandal was a huge upgrade over A.J. Ellis.  Those who didn't like it pointed to Kemp's second half success in 2014, and that at long last he looked healthy again.

Here we are a couple of games from exactly the midway point, and a couple weeks from the All-Star Game, and the Dodgers are in first place at 44-35, while the Padres are still struggling at 37-42.

So who got the better of the deal?  Sorry, Padre fans, but it's the Dodgers.

Let's look at their offensive stats:

Grandal: 59 games, .269 AVG, .380 OBP, 8 2B, 12 HR, 31 RBI, 1.1 WAR
Kemp: 78 games, .247 AVG, .283 OBP, 16 2B, 2 3B, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 7 SB, -0.2 WAR

While Kemp has more RBIs and steals, Grandal is leading in the home run department, and has a sky high OBP compared to Kemp.  Also, you have to remember that Kemp gets nearly all of his at-bats in the third or fourth slot, leading to more chances to drive in runs (he recently has started hitting leadoff thanks to his lack of power).  Grandal mostly hits anywhere between 5-7.  Big difference.

The other big difference is the reason why each guy was swapped in the first place.  The Padres were looking to make a splash on offense after years of futility, bringing in guys like Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, and Kemp.  Upton has certainly done his part, leading the Padres in practically every offensive category, including steals.  Norris has 20 doubles and 11 homers.  Myers has been hurt, so it's hard to judge him.  Kemp, however, has not found his power stroke at all.  That's been disappointing.

Grandal had a bit of an advantage when his numbers are compared to Ellis's.  OK, he has a HUGE advantage, especially since Ellis hit .191 with three homers and 25 RBIs last year.  That's almost comically bad.  Well actually, he's at .171, no homers, and three RBIs this year.  He's somehow topped his own futility.

Anyway, Grandal has been a big uplift regardless of how pitiful Ellis has been.  Take last night's 6-4 win over the Diamondbacks.  He hit a two-run homer to start the scoring in the second (two straight games with a homer for him), then added on insurance in the 10th with a two-run double, which were runs the Dodgers needed for the win.  At a time when the Dodgers are struggling to score, his seven homers is tied with Joc Pederson for tops in June.

Defensively, I don't think either guy will be confused with Bryce Harper or Yadier Molina.  Kemp is no longer even allowed to touch center field, instead patrolling right all season long.  Grandal has long been described as not the greatest defensive catcher, but a great pitch framer.  So there's that.

Grandal's Defensive WAR is -0.5, and Kemp's -0.8.  Neither is good, but Grandal's rates just a bit better.

To sum it up, the Dodgers have to be thrilled with what they've gotten out of Grandal thus far.  He's brought plenty of pop at the plate, and has thankfully yanked all sorts of playing time away from Ellis.  To be fair to Kemp, he might have another second half breakout in him like he did last year for the Dodgers, so we'll wait and see.  But it sure has been fun not to have to deal with the outfield drama that plagued the Dodgers last year.

Advantage: Grandal.