Archive for Dodgers

The Results of Clayton Kershaw’s Experiment

Late last September, in this very space, I put up a short post entitled “Clayton Kershaw Experimented On the Rockies.” The idea: Two times, in low-leverage situations, Kershaw showed Rockies hitters a new twist. Specifically, the over-the-top southpaw dropped his arm angle to deliver what was more of a tailing fastball. It’s weird whenever a high-profile pitcher does anything different, and it was fair to wonder whether Kershaw might bring the tweak into the playoffs. He did! Take a look.

Borrowing from Texas Leaguers, here are Kershaw’s release points last year, before and then beginning from the Rockies start.

It’s easy to spot the exceptional pitches. When Kershaw dropped down — which he apparently did a total of 25 times — his release point dropped a half-foot, and it shifted over roughly a foot and a half. That’s a significantly different throwing motion, and you could see from Kershaw’s follow-throughs that nothing about it was ordinary. The lower slot was supposedly how Kershaw used to throw in high school. He was inspired to bring it into game action by teammate Rich Hill.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the world. Therefore, one should always be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. You’d think that whatever Kershaw touches should turn to gold. But how did this experiment actually do? I’ll note that, of Kershaw’s 25 lower-slot pitches, all of them were fastballs. They averaged two inches more drop than Kershaw’s normal four-seamer, and six inches more horizontal break. Over the games in which Kershaw dropped down, his regular fastball averaged 93.9 miles per hour, and his drop-down fastballs averaged 95.3. Hey, that’s pretty good!

Yet there is more information. All but one of the drop-down fastballs were thrown in one-strike or two-strike counts. Of the fastballs, 16 counted as strikes, and there were three whiffs. There were also 15 swings, and eight of those hit a ball fair. Based on that last part, Kershaw wasn’t exactly successful in screwing with the hitters’ timing. Here’s the last drop-down fastball of Kershaw’s 2016:

From earlier in the same game:

And, I showed you the Anthony Rizzo home run. The start before, Kershaw tried the same thing on Rizzo, and Rizzo *almost* went deep. Or, I guess he did go deep, but just not the right kind of deep.

We’re talking about 25 pitches. One can reach no firm conclusions. Encouragingly, Kershaw’s drop-down fastballs were fast. Discouragingly, they didn’t seem to screw with hitters that much. Encouragingly, Kershaw had the confidence to drop down in playoff situations in the first place. Discouragingly, his motion was weird and his command of the fastball was lacking. Kershaw’s average drop-down fastball was higher than his average normal fastball, even though the movement would dictate putting in lower zones. More than a few times, the pitch was left up.

I don’t know if we’ll see Kershaw do this anymore. Maybe the experiment is over. Maybe, like the changeup, Kershaw will work at this without ever perfecting it. Maybe, like the slider, Kershaw will perfect it, and the best pitcher in the world will get even better. Plenty still to find out! I would suggest that, if this is something Kershaw does intend to keep up, he learn a second lesson from Hill.

Hill, you see, throws both fastballs and breaking balls from his lower slot. Kershaw didn’t do that, and so one could interpret his drop-down as something of a tell. It’s worth keeping in mind. Kershaw’s experiment, in its first run, was nothing fantastic. Maybe there’ll still be more trials.


What If Clayton Kershaw Weren’t So Predictable?

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet.

You’re probably aware of his ability, and his hardware, which includes three Cy Young Awards, six straight top-five Cy Young finishes and an NL MVP trophy. But here’s the thing: he could be better.

Consider this fascinating nugget unearthed by Daren Willman:

Kershaw, as Willman notes, never threw a curveball when behind in the count last season. And that’s not all: as Jeff Zimmerman discovered in a December post at RotoGraphs, Kershaw has also been reluctant to employ his other breaking pitch, the slider, in hitter’s counts. A visualization made by Zimmerman of Kershaw’s pitch mix by count reveals the difference between it and the balanced approach utilized by Johnny Cueto. Cueto is willing to throw almost any pitch in any count. Kershaw, on the other hand, becomes extremely reliant on his fastball when he falls behind.

Overall, Kerhsaw threw curveballs at a 15.6% rate last season and at 13.2% rate for his career. It’s his third pitch, but it is also his greatest velocity-separation offering. He rarely throws a changeup. But while Kershaw rarely throws his slider in hitter’s count, he never throws his curveball.

And it’s not just fluky, one-year, phenomenon. Here are the total number of curveballs Kershaw has thrown in his career when facing a 1-0 count…

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How Would You Comp Yasiel Puig?

Perspective matters a great deal when you’re trying to look at a question and find the unfiltered truth. It’s true of all statistical analysis, but it becomes even more obvious when you’re trying to find comparable historical players.

Where do you set the cutoffs? How far back do you go in the player pool? How far back do you go in the player’s own career? If you manipulate the variables, you can get all sorts of different results. That’s why it’s so hard to analyze a player simply by finding other, similar players. The very idea of similar is difficult to pin down.

Take Yasiel Puig, for example. Pull the strings a little differently each time, and his comps vary wildly.

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Last Year’s Unluckiest Changeup

In baseball, luck is a tricky concept. In some cases, it’s used to describe an event that’s within the normal distribution of outcomes but far from the mean. In other cases, what we call luck might actually be the first signs of an outlying skill for which we simply lack a sufficiently large sample to identify.

We’ve developed a new understanding on one kind of luck in recent years — namely, the sort that occurs with a batted ball. With Statcast data, we can look at the shape and size of a ball in play and try to decide what the batter “deserved” from that sort of ball in play. Then we compare it to actual outcomes. The difference between the observed and expected outcome is luck.

What if you want to look at a luck on a specific pitch type, though? How would you do it? You could look at the results on the pitch and basically use the Statcast-type process from the other side of the ball. What sorts of balls in play did that pitch produce, and what sort of results should those balls in play have produced? The problem with that approach is that you’re slicing a pitcher’s repertoire into small samples when you start talking about balls in play off a specific pitch. Even David Price, for example — who led the majors in innings last year — allowed fewer than 300 balls in play on his most frequently thrown pitch, the fastball. Secondary pitches are, almost by definition, thrown much less often. Variance isn’t the exception in such cases, but the rule.

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Clayton Kershaw Pitched Like a Reliever

You might have heard that Clayton Kershaw is good at pitching. He’s Hercules and Sandy Koufax merged together at the molecular level. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to throw over tall buildings with a single curve. He’s SuperPitcher. Much like Mike Trout, Kershaw is the sort of athlete who could easily serve as the genesis of a daily newsletter with interesting factoids about said athlete. The more you dig around on statistical leaderboards and in his ledger, the more ridiculous little nuggets of gold you can dig up.

Take, for instance, this:

2016 WHIP Leaders, Min. 60 Innings
Pitcher IP WHIP
Kenley Jansen 68.2 0.67
Andrew Miller 74.1 0.69
Clayton Kershaw 149 0.72
Zach Britton 67.0 0.84
Ryan Dull 74.1 0.87
Nate Jones 70.2 0.89
Mark Melancon 71.1 0.90
Dan Otero 70.2 0.91
Christopher Devenski 108.1 0.91
Seung Hwan Oh 79.2 0.92

One of these things is not like the other. WHIP isn’t a perfect indicator of pitcher success, because the number of hits allowed by a pitcher is impacted by the defense playing behind him, and walks are affected by the framing quality of a pitcher’s catcher. It is, however, a generally fun statistic and is usually useful when one is in pursuit of a general picture of a pitcher’s ability to limit baserunners. The full leaderboard is here, and as you can see, it generally consists of pitchers who kicked ass in 2016.

Let’s talk about the top portion of that leaderboard, though, which has been reproduced in the table above. Of the 10 pitchers included here, Kershaw is the only one who’s a full-time starting pitcher. (Devenski started five games but had the bulk of his success in relief.) You have to go down to the 16th spot on the leaderboard to find the next starter, Max Scherzer (who’s followed by Kyle Hendricks and Rich Hill). Scherzer’s WHIP was 25 points higher than Kershaw’s. This is largely due to the fact that Kershaw walked just 11 men all year, and would have set the modern record for strikeout-to-walk ratio had he been a qualified starter.

One of the great injustices of baseball is that Kershaw hurt his back last year, because we’ll never know if he would have been able to keep up that sheer lunacy over the course of a full season. His 1.69 ERA in 149 regular-season innings was lower than Pedro Martinez‘s 1.74 in his ridiculous 2000 campaign. Kershaw also bested Pedro’s 2000 in FIP and WHIP, with Pedro taking the edge in DRA. If you look at all starting-pitcher seasons since 2000, set the minimum innings requirement at 140, and sort by WHIP, Kershaw’s 2016 and Pedro’s 2000 represent the top two figures. Four of the top 10 seasons over that timeframe belong to Kershaw. The fact that we’re even conducting a flawed (Pedro threw 217 innings that year, and in a different offensive era) comparison of these two men and not totally throwing the stats out with the bathwater is remarkable.

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Here Are 111 Seconds of Pedro Baez Not Pitching

The major story of the playoffs, obviously, was the Cubs winning the World Series. But that’s something we only got to know after the fact, and in the thick of things, the playoffs are a random jumble of assorted other stories. There was Trevor Bauer and the drone. There was the surprise appearance of Ryan Merritt. There was Clayton Kershaw pitching in relief. And there was Pedro Baez demonstrating a reluctance to ever be pitching at all.

Baez is not baseball’s only slow worker, but he probably became the new face of the group. When he was a rookie in 2014, he averaged 29 seconds between pitches, ranking him tenth-slowest. The next year, his average increased to 29.8, ranking him first-slowest. Runner-up Junichi Tazawa made himself slower by seven-tenths of a second, so Baez responded by making himself slower still, bumping that average to 30.2, again the slowest mark in the game. It’s something that’s simultaneously subtle and ever so noticeable. Baez’s nickname, according to Baseball-Reference, is The Human Rain Delay, and that’s because whenever he gets summoned from the bullpen, the umpires get together to discuss whether they should just call the thing and go home.

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Chris Tillman, the Orioles, and Rotation Depth

Chris Tillman has some aches in his shoulder, has recently received a shot, and may miss some time early in the season. That’s what’s been reported, at least. It might not be a big deal, considering that teams can skip a fifth starter’s spot in April and fudge their way through the month. It might be a big deal, though, once you consider the Orioles’ rotation depth relative to the rest of the league.

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The Reinvention of Franklin Gutierrez, Baseball Miracle

The Dodgers signed Franklin Gutierrez over the weekend. Now, I didn’t realize the Dodgers still had room on their major-league roster, but they probably know better than I do. Here is a list of problems that have sent Franklin Gutierrez to the disabled list over the past several years:

  • stomach gastritis
  • strained left oblique
  • torn right pectoral
  • concussion
  • strained right hamstring
  • strained right hamstring

Related to the above, here are Gutierrez’s year-to-year plate-appearance totals after getting traded to the Mariners:

  • 2009: 629
  • 2010: 629
  • 2011: 344
  • 2012: 163
  • 2013: 151
  • 2014: 0

That zero stands out. Gutierrez missed all of 2014, making the personal decision to sit out so he could focus on treatment. Treatment for what? Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis! Young athletes are not often diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but Gutierrez was, and there isn’t a cure. It’s a condition he’ll deal with for the rest of his life, and it costs him flexibility and mobility. It’s cruel and unrelenting, and when Gutierrez elected to not play, he couldn’t have known whether he’d ever be able to return.

But he tried in 2015. He tried, and he succeeded, having settled on a treatment plan that left him feeling somewhat okay. Gutierrez batted almost 200 times with the 2015 Mariners, and then he batted almost 300 times with the 2016 Mariners. And the player that Gutierrez turned himself into was and is dramatically different from the player he’d been before.

Franklin Gutierrez vs. Franklin Gutierrez
Years PA Def/600 BB% K% wRC+ ISO HR/FB% Hard% Zone% WAR/600
2007 – 2010 1999 18.3 7% 21% 94 0.143 9% 32% 53% 3.6
2015 – 2016 472 -10.3 9% 29% 135 0.255 30% 44% 45% 3.7

That’s a comparison of recent Gutierrez to what’s basically peak, healthy Gutierrez. Earlier in his career, Gutierrez was as smooth an outfield defender as anyone had ever seen. He was one of the best defensive players in baseball, and at the plate, he showed some promising pop. Now look at the last two years. Gutierrez has become a negative defensive asset, because he simply doesn’t move so well anymore. For the same reason, he’s seldom aggressive on the bases. So much of that old athleticism is gone, and it’ll never return. But Gutierrez has found a way to compensate. He’s gotten bigger, and he’s made a conscious effort to try to just beat the living crap out of the ball.

Some percentile rankings from the last two years:

  • HR/FB%: 100th
  • ISO: 96th
  • Hard%: 99th
  • wFA/C: 99th
  • Exit Velo: 96th
  • Contact: 7th
  • K%: 5th
  • Fastball%: 4th
  • Def/600: 19th

No hitter in baseball has managed a higher rate of home runs per fly ball. Gutierrez has some of the best hard-contact measures around, having sacrificed contact to get there. At this point, he has a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss, and so pitchers increasingly treat Gutierrez like a terrifying threat, avoiding fastballs and avoiding the zone. As far as other things go, Gutierrez can still play the outfield, but he isn’t very good at it. And there will be days he’ll wake up and he simply won’t be able to play. On those days, his condition won’t let him.

The reality is, Gutierrez isn’t getting healthier. And teams are reluctant to sign a player whose availability is unpredictable. From time to time, the Dodgers might end up frustrated, playing games with a short bench. But they know what they’re getting into, and they know what Gutierrez has been able to do since his return. Having lost a lot of his ability to move around, Gutierrez has focused on more light jogs and fewer hard sprints. He remains active with his 34th birthday coming next week, and given where he’s been, that’s almost impossible to believe.


Meet the Dodgers’ Right-Handed Skyrocket

The Dodgers have, and have had for a few years, one of the very best farm systems around. That leads to them receiving a certain amount of coverage, so you couldn’t in good conscience consider the Dodgers’ system in any way underrated. Yet so much attention has been focused on the elites — Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias, Cody Bellinger, and so forth. The major story of the system is the top of the system. Which, in turn, can undersell the best of the others.

We spent time last year singing the praises of Jharel Cotton, who has since been traded away. Cotton kind of got lost in the mix. Similarly, we’ve spent time singing the praises of Jose De Leon, who has also since been traded away. The De Leon perception suffered from the nearby presence of Urias. Maybe the fact that those two have been traded means the Dodgers weren’t big fans after all. Maybe it doesn’t mean that. But they’re major-league pitchers, and if the Dodgers just demonstrated anything, it’s that you can need a lot of those in a summer.

Why, then, deplete the depth? Well, Cotton got another starting pitcher. De Leon got a starting second baseman. Those are good reasons. Brock Stewart is another good reason. Fairly quietly, Stewart surged forward in 2016, by pulling off two very fundamental tasks: throwing a bunch of strikes, and missing a bunch of bats.

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Sergio Romo Opts for Dodger Blue

As Ken Rosenthal reported Monday, Sergio Romo has found a home in Los Angeles, signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers and switching sides in one of the game’s most spirited rivalries. Romo will always be associated with the Giants, part of three World Series-winning teams, but he’ll pitch for the Dodgers in 2017 and it’s going to take some getting used to for everyone.

The incomparable Grant Brisbee offered a fascinating detail as he came to grips with the transaction:

(Romo) was recognizable. He was on commercials. He was reliable. He occasionally made opposing hitters look silly, as if they just picked up the sport of baseball. And he was around for nine seasons. Here’s a list of San Francisco Giants who have thrown nine seasons or more since the team moved west:

Juan Marichal
Greg Minton
Matt Cain
Gary Lavelle
Kirk Rueter
Scott Garrelts
Randy Moffitt
Jim Barr
Gaylord Perry
Sergio Romo
Tim Lincecum

How many relievers spend nine seasons with a club nowadays? It’s a rare tenure. But by relocating south to join the division favorites, he will now be part of the group setting up for closer Kenley Jansen, unless manager Dave Roberts blows our minds and begins using Jansen in non-save situations.

Everything from Romo’s demonstrative actions to his pitch mix remains interesting. He’s succeeded with below-average velocity thanks to his slider, a fascinating pitch that proves in the bullpen you can really make a career with one pitch – if it’s outstanding.

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Brandon Gomes on Joining Dodgers’ New Pitching Dept.

Brandon Gomes is on to phase two of his baseball career. Ten years after being drafted out of Tulane University, the 32-year-old right-hander has moved from the mound to a player-development position. This past fall, he was hired as a pitching coordinator by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His role is somewhat atypical, which is hardly a surprise given the team employing him. Led by Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and Josh Byrnes, the Dodgers front office is as progressive as any in the game. They like bringing on board smart, creative people, and Gomes has a degree in Legal Studies and Finance to augment his five seasons as a Tampa Bay Rays reliever.

Gomes talked about his new job, and some of what’s being done in LA’s newly-created pitching department, late last week.

———

Gomes on getting hired by the Dodgers: “After I got released [by the Cubs] in June, I spent about three or four weeks trying to find another Triple-A job. No teams showed interest, so at that point I decided I wanted to pursue this end of things. I contacted [president of baseball operations] Andrew Friedman, who I had relationship with from our time in Tampa, and that kind of got the ball rolling. He put me in contact with [director of player development] Gabe Kapler.

“I spoke with Gabe quite a bit, trying to figure out what shape my role would be if I came on board. That happened in September, when I went out to instructional league in Arizona. I spent a month there, getting to know some of the staff, and build a relationship with some of the younger players.

“My title is ‘Pitching Coordinator, Performance.’ We actually created a department, so we have a couple of pitching coordinators, of different iterations. That’s wise, because it’s a huge undertaking for one person to really tackle the entire situation. Having multiple people who are able to hit it from different angles, the goal is to not miss anything with any of our guys.

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The Dodgers Rotation Is Risky, Expensive, and Fantastic

Anecdotally speaking, Clayton Kershaw makes any rotation look good. Empirically speaking, that also appears to be the case. Consider: according to the depth-chart projections at this site, the Dodgers currently possess the best rotation in major-league baseball. The San Diego Padres, meanwhile, have the worst. If one were to move Kershaw from LA to San Diego, the Dodgers would rank only 15th in the majors; the Padres would improve to sixth-best overall.

With Kershaw, the Dodgers have gotten a massive head start when it comes to outpacing the rest of MLB rotations. Despite contending with frequent injury problems over the last five season, the Dodgers have spent their way to one of the top-five rotations in baseball thanks to Clayton Kershaw plus a near-endless supply of arms. This season is unlikely to be any different.

Back in 2014, the Dodgers had a mostly healthy rotation, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Josh Beckett all recording at least 20 starts. The first four members of that group took the mound in 117 of the team’s games that season. Beckett added another 20, while seven other pitchers split the remaining 25 starts. That offseason, however, Beckett retired. The Dodgers paid Dan Haren to pitch for Miami, trading both him and Dee Gordon to the Marlins in a deal that ultimately netted them Howie Kendrick. To replace those two spots, the team signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year deal and took a $10 million flyer on Brett Anderson. McCarthy and Ryu got hurt, Anderson pitched quite well, and the team ended up using 16 starters — or, essentially 13 different pitchers to fill out the final two rotation spots.

The chart below illustrates how many starters each major-league team used in 2015.

Led by Kershaw and Greinke, the 17.7 WAR produced by the Dodgers rotation represented the third-highest mark in the majors — this, despite the club having been compelled to use more starters than any other team in the league. Including the $40 million the team spent to acquire Alex Wood — including the signing bonus of Hector Olivera and the money added by Mike Morse and Bronson Arroyo — as well as the 15 cents for every dollar that went to the luxury tax, the Dodgers spent roughly $150 million to record those 17.7 wins, a pretty inefficient $8.8 million per WAR.

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Is Grant Dayton an Elite Reliever?

Two weeks ago, when I was examining the New York Yankees, I noted that they were the only American League team to feature multiple relievers projected by our depth charts (which are powered by Steamer for now) to record at least 1.5 WAR in 2017. Only seven AL pitchers cleared that mark overall. Looking over at the National League, we find that even fewer pitchers hit that mark, though there is still a single team with two of them: the Los Angeles Dodgers.

One, as you can probably guess, is Kenley Jansen. The other, though, might come as a surprise. It’s Grant Dayton. Unless you’re a big Dodgers fan, the first time you probably met Dayton was in last year’s National League Division Series, when he coughed up the two runs, prompting LA manager Dave Roberts to call on Jansen in the seventh inning — and to bring Clayton Kershaw into the game in the ninth to close things out. So, in a certain sense, perhaps we should thank Dayton. If he escapes that seventh inning unscathed, we might not have been treated to Kershaw vs. Daniel Murphy with a runner in scoring position and the season on the line.

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Projecting Jose De Leon

At long last, the Dodgers found a solution to their hole at second base, acquiring second baseman Logan Forsythe from the Rays on Monday night in exchange for top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. This came after months of rumors around a trade involving De Leon and Brian Dozier. The Dodgers had a surplus of starting pitchers and an opening at second, so it was only a matter of time before they dealt the unproven De Leon.

De Leon’s first crack at the big leagues — a four-start cameo in September — didn’t go quite as well as many had hoped. But he breezed through the minors over the last two years. He broke out in a big way in 2015, striking out an absurd 35% of opposing hitters between High-A and Double-A while walking just 8%. That performance made him a consensus top-30 prospect the following winter.

De Leon battled injuries in the first half of 2016, but began dominating again once he returned to the field. In 16 starts at the Triple-A level, he once again posted a strikeout rate well over 30%, along with solid walk and home-run numbers. De Leon proved himself at the highest level of the minors at the tender age of 23. Pitchers who meet that standard often go on to have success in the majors, especially when they miss bats as prolifically as De Leon did.

De leon grades out exceptionally well by my KATOH system. It projects him for 8.1 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method (KATOH) and also 10.1 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings (KATOH+). He’s the 13th-highest-ranking prospect by KATOH+ and the third-highest-ranking pitcher.

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New Study Finds Link Between Jet Lag, Performance

What happened to Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS? According to a new study by Northwestern University, maybe it was jet lag.

Looking at 20 major-league seasons and 40,000 games’ worth of data, researchers found that jet lag perceptibly “impairs” player and team performance. The study is likely to be passed around many major-league front offices and strength-and-training departments. In a sport where every team is looking for hidden value at the margins, the value of better rest and recovery is just beginning to be explored, understood and focused upon — and is perhaps a considerable inefficiency in the game.

Dr. Ravi Allada, a circadian-rhythms expert, led the study:

“The negative effects of jet lag we found are subtle, but they are detectable and significant. And they happen on both offense and defense and for both home and away teams, often in surprising ways….

“For Game 6, the teams had returned to Chicago from LA, and this time the Cubs scored five runs off of Kershaw, including two home runs. While it’s speculation, our research would suggest that jet lag was a contributing factor in Kershaw’s performance.”

One of the homers in question:

Of course, Kershaw did pitch on extra rest that start, and Kyle Hendricks himself did just fine after traveling back east, but perhaps the rest could not save Kershaw from the clutches of jet lag.

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The Mystery of Yasiel Puig

There may be no more confounding player in baseball than Yasiel Puig. His natural talent seems boundless. For bursts of weeks and months, Puig will look for all the world like a demigod in a Dodgers uniform, mashing and running and throwing like he was put on this planet to torture pitchers and baserunners.

Those stretches of time have grown scarcer, however. Every year since his blistering 2013 debut, Puig’s wRC+ has steadily fallen. It wasn’t as apparent in his five-win 2014, and frankly nobody expected him to keep up the 160 wRC+ he’d notched the year before. The last two years, though, have been rough. Puig has been limited to just 183 games since the start of 2015. He’s been sidelined by a variety of injuries, and that’s affected both his playing time and (likely) his production. Puig was even sequestered away in Triple-A for a month this year.

The question of who Puig really is as a player might be an easy one, but it feels complicated. Is he still going to be a star? How many offseasons in a row have we had this conversation now? Why do we care so much about a man who may just be a good-but-not-great cog on a great team? There have been plenty of blue-chip prospects who have developed into merely average players before, and there will be again. Puig may be the latest in that long line. It’s a simple answer, and it’s an acceptable one. What is it about Yasiel Puig that captures your attention and imagination?

It’s this.

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No Average Joe

Joe Blanton was all kinds of “meh” as a starting pitcher.

In 1,553 career innings a starter – his role during the first nine years of his career – Blanton produced a 4.47 ERA and 4.20 FIP. He was a back-of-the-rotation arm. He soaked up innings. His starts were not going to spike ratings or attendance or win expectancy.

But in 2015 he found himself in the Kansas City bullpen and something strange occurred: he became one of the game’s most effective relievers despite an atypical tools profile.

Blanton was effective in the Royals’ bullpen, and when he was traded to the Pirates at the trade deadline, he was again successful in a relief role. During the following offseason, he signed a modest one-year, $4 million deal with the Dodgers and was, again, successful pitching out of the bullpen.

Since 2015, Blanton has appeared in 107 games, all as a reliever. In that time he ranks 11th in ERA (2.29) among all relievers, 24th in FIP (3.02) and 26th in K-BB% (19.1 points).

So what’s strange — in an era during which we hear more interest and talk about teams relying more heavily on their bullpens, when we saw inspired bullpen usage by the Cleveland Indians and other clubs in the postseason — what’s strange is Blanton remains available in free agency.

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The Dodgers’ Decision To Be Intentionally Inefficient

Last week, when discussing the Dodgers second base options, I talked about Logan Forsythe as a reasonable alternative to Brian Dozier, a similar player on a similar contract, but finished the section with this reason why I thought maybe they should look elsewhere.

I could potentially see a Forsythe deal working if the Dodgers were floating some pieces that could help Tampa Bay maintain the status quo and give them some long-term value, but Forsythe isn’t good enough to extract Jose De Leon, and I’m not sure the Rays really need more pitching depth.

Well, yesterday, the Dodgers traded De Leon for Forsythe in a one for one swap, so the Dodgers decided I was wrong about that whole “not good enough” part. While they deemed the Twins asking price of De Leon and something else of substantial value too high for Dozier, they were willing to part with one of the game’s best young pitchers in order to land Dozier-Lite. And as you probably guessed based on my write-up last week, that decision surprised me a bit.

Jeff did a good job of showing why the Dodgers viewed Forsythe and Dozier as similar enough to go with door #2 when they found the Twins asking price too high, but in all of the recent talk we’ve done about how comparable some of their rate stats are, there’s something that we should make sure doesn’t get lost: Dozier is better than Forsythe.

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Dodgers Trade for Brian Dozier, Basically

Sometimes there are trade rumors that aren’t really true. We tend not to know about those until after the fact, but the false rumors tend to be the fleeting ones. Then there are the rumors that just don’t go away. That’s when you know there’s smoke. And there was all kinds of smoke billowing out of the rumors that linked the Dodgers to Brian Dozier.

It all added up, and there was no point in anyone issuing any denials. The Dodgers needed a second baseman, and Dozier is a good one. The Twins could stand to flip some quality assets, and Dozier is a good one. We got to know more than we usually do — the Dodgers put Jose De Leon on the table. That’s where the teams got stuck. The Dodgers liked what they’d be getting, and the Twins felt the same. They just couldn’t reach an agreement on a second prospect to go to Minnesota. The Twins held out, and the Dodgers wouldn’t budge.

And so, in the end, the Dodgers haven’t added Brian Dozier. Instead, they called up the Rays, and added basically Brian Dozier. The cost was De Leon, and nothing else.

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In Defense of Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame Credentials

We tend to form memories poorly. In middle school, my band teacher was fond of telling us that if you only played two parts of the song correctly, to make it the beginning and the end, because most people wouldn’t remember anything else.

So it may be with Andruw Jones. If you pressed most people on what they remember most about Jones, there’s a decent chance that they’d recall him as the 19-year-old who homered twice in the 1996 World Series and also as a really fat guy who was terrible in his 30s. In between those two endpoints, though, he had a Hall of Fame career.

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