Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 2: A tale of two games, but still a loss

greinke_zack_ST 3.12.14

This game was pretty tame and boring until the ninth inning. The game was tied at one on the strength of solo home runs by Miguel Montero and Scott Van Slyke.

After that, it was like an entirely different game. Chris Withrow did this:

That would have been a hell of a way to lose a game. Luckily, Withrow was bailed out by everyone’s favorite Uribear.

Love you, Juan Uribe.

Unfortunately, temporary closer Chris Perez gave up two runs off the bat of Aaron Hill in the 12th inning to give the Diamondbacks a 4-2 win against the Dodgers.

Zack Greinke pitched well, despite not being terribly efficient with his pitches (105 pitches, 68 strikes in six innings). He gave up three hits, a run, two walks (his first since his season debut) and struck out a season-high eight batters. However, the home run bug bit him again, as he gave up a home run to Miguel Montero in the sixth inning. Thankfully, it was only a solo shot. But it was the fifth homer he’s allowed this season in 22 1/3 innings. Last season, he didn’t give up his fifth home run until June 27. Not sure what it means — other than a higher-than-average FIP — but it’s something to watch going forward.

The Dodgers didn’t do anything to help Greinke out, as they didn’t get their fourth hit off Diamondbacks’ starter Wade Miley until the fourth inning. They did draw five walks against Miley (seven walks total, including three by Yasiel Puig), but they couldn’t cash in any of them. They struck out eight times (11 times total), continuing their trend of not putting the ball in play — they’re seventh in baseball in highest strikeout percentage.

Kirk Gibson let Miley go back out for the seventh inning, and he promptly gave up a then game-tying homer to Van Slyke. Miley was already at 106 pitches through six innings and had his best outing of the season, but Gibson pressed it — and paid the price.

Oh, and this:

So, thanks for that, Gibby, even if it didn’t result in a victory.

Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 5:10 p.m. Pacific time. Mike Bolsinger (I know, who?) faces off against Dan Haren.

Dodgers @ Giants April 16, 2014: The Problem With Juan Uribe’s Offense

attparkJuan Uribe has been getting a lot of praise for his offense so far this year. And rightfully so: Uribe currently leads the Dodgers’ batters in wRC+. However, he’s taken an unusual path to get there. So far this season, Uribe has not drawn a single walk. Including last year’s postseason (when he didn’t draw any walks either), Uribe has gone 101 plate appearances since his last free pass.

Walk rate takes about 120 plate appearances to stabilize, and so far this season Uribe has 58. It’s too early to declare this as a big problem; so far it’s a statistical curiosity. At this point last year, Uribe’s walk rate was 23.9% and he finished the season at 7.0%. When Uribe’s .476 BABIP inevitably regresses, he’ll need the walks to keep his offensive contribution at a respectable level. Luckily, he still has his defense, which will help maintain his value.

7:15 pm PT
San Francisco, CA
Maholm (L)
Vogelsong (R)

Paul Maholm gets his second start for the Dodgers tonight. His first start was, well, bad. He gave up five runs in 4-1/3 innings, striking out one and walking two. Given how hard the bullpen worked during yesterday’s marathon, Maholm will need to last longer than that tonight.

Maholm’s season has been rocky so far. He gave up a run in relief on Saturday, so his ERA is currently 8.10 (and his FIP is 7.78). He’s only struck out two batters as a Dodger. Despite the rough start, it’s too early to bury him. Maholm has been a league average starter for most of his career, and less than seven innings isn’t enough to outweigh that. If he’s as good as his career numbers, or even slightly worse, he’ll be good enough for a back of the rotation starter.

Since the Dodgers need Maholm to start right now, that means that without him they’d be relying on Stephen Fife or Matt Magill. So far this season, Fife has allowed 16 runs (15 earned) in 11-1/3 Albuquerque innings, so he isn’t doing much to shake off his late-season slide. Magill is doing a bit better, allowing 8 runs (6 earned) in 14 innings.

While Fife and Magill’s samples are small (and in Albuquerque), they don’t currently seem like pitchers who should be in the majors over Maholm, or at the very least it doesn’t make a very big difference. You could probably make a valid argument for Zach Lee, but the Dodgers don’t seem interested in starting his service time clock. With Clayton Kershaw on the mend, we might see Maholm out of the rotation sooner rather than later, anyhow.

In other starting pitcher news, the results of Chad Billingsley‘s MRI are back and aren’t as bad as they could have been. Elbow tendinitis isn’t great, but it’s better than “needs Tommy John surgery.” There’s still a chance that we’ll see him this year.

The lineup is more or less the standard one for right-handed pitching, though Puig is getting the day off because he has never faced Vogelsong. The reasoning isn’t the best, but at this point it probably doesn’t have to be.

The Mark McGwire effect on Dodgers’ hitters

Mark McGwire is a really good hitting coach. (By: Dustin Nosler)

Mark McGwire is a really good hitting coach. (By: Dustin Nosler)

Even at their best, the Dodgers have never been known as an offensive juggernaut along the lines of the Cardinals, Rangers, Red Sox or Rockies. They’ve had some really good hitters to don the uniform, but they could never really pull it all together at the same time.

The 2014 Dodgers could be one of the team’s best offensive units in their history. The talent absolutely has a lot to do with a proclamation like that. Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are all Top-10 players at their positions, while the their “secondary” guys include the likes of Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Andre Ethier (a hopefully healthy) Matt Kemp and a rejuvenated Juan Uribe. But how much credit should go to hitting coach Mark McGwire?

It might be too early to tell, as there is only one season of data available. But it would appear McGwire has the Dodger hitters heading in the right direction.

In 2011, also known as Kemp’s shoulda-been-MVP-season, the Dodgers ranked ninth in the National League in runs scored (644), sixth in batting average (.257), seventh in on-base percentage (.322) and 12th in slugging percentage.

In 2012, the Dodgers ranked 13th in the NL in runs scored (637), eighth in batting average (.252), ninth in OBP (.317) and a paltry 15th in slugging (.374).

Year 2011 NL Rank
2012 NL Rank
2013 NL Rank
Runs scored 9 13 7
Batting average 6 8 3
On-base percentage 7 9 3
Slugging percentage 12 15 6

Under McGwire’s watch last season, the Dodgers improved in every category. They were seventh in the NL in runs (649), third in average (.264) and OBP (.326) and sixth in slugging percentage (.396). They finished sixth in slugging percentage despite hitting just 138 home runs (10th in the NL). While the rate statistics wouldn’t be that impacted by Ramirez’s absence last season, the Dodgers still had to replace his elite bat with guys who weren’t as good (admittedly, Nick Punto played pretty well last year).

It could be coincidence, as it was the first year the core of the team was together, even if Ramirez missed a ton of time and Puig didn’t come up until June. But it is reasonable to suspect McGwire had something to do with the overall improvement of the team from an offensive standpoint.

When McGwire was somewhat surprisingly hired by the Cardinals prior to the 2011 season, he had an immediate impact on some of the individual players. Before McGwire, guys like Allen Craig, David Freese and Yadier Molina weren’t the hitters they are now. Craig is one of the most underrated right-handed hitters in the NL, Freese made a name for himself in the 2011 postseason before following it up with a solid 2012 campaign and Molina went from “good catcher” to “great catcher’ once he learned how to hit.

I isolated this trio when the Dodgers hired McGwire after the 2012 season.

“Craig was never a blue-chip prospect coming up through the Cardinals’ system. His bat was always going to be the thing that made or broke his career. McGwire’s guidance, coupled with opportunity, allowed Craig to post a .307/.354/.522 triple slash this season.

Freese was an afterthought at third base for the Cardinals. He was a light-hitting third baseman who got a late start in baseball. Since McGwire took over in 2010, his home runs per at-bat number has improved every season:

  • 2010: 60 AB/HR
  • 2011: 33.3 AB/HR
  • 2012: 25.1 AB/HR

Oh, and he has a shiny World Series MVP trophy and a career .345/.407/.645 triple slash in postseason play.

McGwire’s best job might have been what he did with Molina. Molina has never been questioned defensively. He is the best in the game. However, some wondered if his bat would ever catch up.

Through the 2010 season, Molina managed just a .268/.327/.361 triple slash. His next two seasons, he had a .310/.362/.484 triple slash. He’s gone from glove-only catcher to MVP candidate in two years. It’s an amazing transformation.”

Craig 2011-12 (97 games average)
.309/.357/.532, 141 OPS+

Craig 2013 (134 games)
.315/.373/.457, 131 OPS+

Freese 2011-12 (120 games average)
.295/.363/.457, 125 OPS+

Freese 2013 (138 games)
.262/.340/.381, 101 OPS+

Molina 2011-12 (138 games average)
.310/.362/.484, 131 OPS+

Molina 2013 (136 games)
.319/.359/.477, 131 OPS+

Only Freese saw a decline in production after McGwire left. That isn’t much of a coincidence, as Craig and Molina are much better hitters than Freese. Their overall team numbers didn’t change much after McGwire left, as the Cardinals’ offense was among the best in baseball, and has been for many years.

While Puig and Ramirez carried the Dodgers for a 50-game stretch, the Dodgers didn’t exactly get all-world performances from anyone else in 2013. Gonzalez was solid, Kemp showed flashes but got off to a terrible start and Crawford and Ethier were just OK.

One of the biggest improvements McGwire could be attributed to is that of Juan Uribe. A pariah for his first two seasons in Dodger Blue, Uribe developed into the team’s leader in WAR (albeit, a lot of that was his glove) and provided solid offense at third base.Uribe went from a .199/.262/.289 triple slash in 2011-12 to a respectable .278/.331/.438 triple slash last season. While his walk rate didn’t improve that much from 2011-12 to 2013 (6.3 percent to 7 percent), he seemed like he had a better idea of what he wanted to do at the plate.

We’ll see if McGwire can coach up some of the other guys in camp this year. Alex Guerrero immediately comes to mind, but he won’t get to work with McGwire much after he’s optioned to minor-league camp (not official, but we all know it’s coming). Dee Gordon is a guy who could benefit, but his own skill set might prohibit a big improvement. And if he can help Erisbel Arruebarrena clean up what initially looks like a really bad swing, then he deserves a raise. McGwire is, rightly, known as one of the best power hitters of all-time. But the guy knows hitting inside and out. He can’t teach these guys to have the plate discipline he did (career 17.2 percent walk rate), but he can teach them the fine points of hitting in hopes of improving the club.

If all goes well, this should be the best Dodgers’ offense in the last 15 years. If that comes to fruition, the Dodgers are going to be in awfully good shape.

2014 Spring Training Preview: Third Base

Name Age System BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
Juan Uribe 35 2013 .278 .331 .438 .334 116 4.7
’14 ZiPS .242 .293 .390 .297 N/A 2.1
’14 Steamer .239 .301 .384 .300 93 2.5
Justin Turner 29 2013 .280 .319 .385 .309 98 0.5
’14 ZiPS .262 .316 .375 .304 N/A 0.7
’14 Steamer .261 .318 .368 .304 95 0.3
Chone Figgins 36 2012 .181 .262 .271 .242 54 -1.1
2013 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
’14 Steamer .232 .300 .306 .273 74 0.1
Brendan Harris 33 2013 .206 .252 .355 .268 69 -0.5
’14 Steamer .226 .290 .331 .278 77 0.0

In the same vein as other positions done thus far, the Dodgers don’t have a ton of depth at third base. This is both because of a lack of action in the utility infielder market during the off-season and because the Dodgers have basically no minor-league depth at the position to speak of.

Given the depth issues, the health and production of Juan Uribe becomes paramount, and that’s a tricky situation when we’re talking about a player entering his age 34 season. Especially so in the case of Uribear, as his career has recently been riddled with inconsistency. Fortunately, one aspect of his game that hasn’t been inconsistent is his defense, which is something the Dodgers leaned on in 2013 and will continue to do so in 2014. That defensive ability makes a potential offensive regression palatable, and as the projections show, his offense does figure to take a step or two backwards mainly due to his inflated 2013 BABIP and previous inconsistency. That said, even if his production at the plate flounders a bit, Uribe projects to be an above-average regular for the Dodgers at a position they’ve had no dependable answers at for quite a while.

Justin Turner basically has to make this team despite his minor-league deal. Why? Because he plays second and third, and as of right now, he’s the best fallback option at both positions. Since 2011, he’s been consistently fringe average with the bat, posting a line of .267/.327/.371/.698, which is better than most of the other reserves competing with him. Turner has played third much more effectively than second thus far in his career, and figures to serve as the Nick Punto-type utility guy in 2014, barring some type of disaster in Spring Training.

Chone Figgins was last seen batting .185/.249/.253/.502 in 2011-12 for the Mariners. He then latched on with the Marlins prior to 2013 but couldn’t make the team. So he missed all of last year basically due to ineffectiveness, and is now three years removed from even being a mediocre player. Perhaps the only sign of hope is that he’s a plus defender at third. Also, with the lack of utility options in camp, and with his ability to play around the diamond, Figgins isn’t so much of a long-shot to make the roster if he’s able to put together a quality Spring Training. That probably says more about the quality of the utility guys in camp than it does about his current ability though. Even if Figgins doesn’t make the team, he’ll be one of the first up should anything happen, assuming he accepts a minor-league assignment.

Brendan Harris was mediocre with the bat last year and performed poorly defensively, but unfortunately his bat still isn’t much different from other utility candidates. Though he can handle all the infield positions, he struggles defensively at third and will be a long shot for the roster assuming a handful of guys don’t go down before the season.

So there’s a lot of question marks at third base, and things could go wrong at the position in a hurry. An awful lot of the burden falls on an aging Juan Uribe to perform in 2014, because if he falls back into his 2011-12 habits, the situation at the position could get ugly fast and necessitate a trade. That said, while Uribe figures to regress with the bat, he should still be a solidly average player overall. Aside from him though, there’s not many options available on the bench that could effectively provide cover without damaging the team’s production. The best bet for Uribe relief going into camp will be Justin Turner.

Here’s to health!

Next Up: Left Field