Phillies 7, Dodgers 0: Future Dodger Cliff Lee Is The Best

I present to you a GIF:

If, because of the quality, you can’t tell what Paul Maholm is saying, he was pretty clearly saying “just throw the effin’ ball over there” to himself after his fifth inning throwing error went over the head of Adrian Gonzalez and allowed the fifth Philadelphia run to score, but he really could have been talking about any of the 107 pitches he threw tonight in a 7-0 loss to the Phillies. Maholm got into trouble straight away, walking Tony Gwynn — yes, old friend Tony Gwynn, the one who couldn’t get out of Triple-A Albuquerque last year — to start the game, then letting Jimmy Rollins single. After Chase Utley flew out, Carlos Ruiz doubled in both of the runners. To Maholm’s credit, he managed to get through the next three innings unscathed.

Less to his credit, the fifth inning! Maholm actually did get the first two, but then walked Ruiz and allowed Ryan Howard to take him deep to center. Maholm only struck out two — one was Cliff Lee — and somehow unbelievably, now has six strikeouts and eight walks in 17.2 innings. That feels unsustainable, by which I mean, either he’ll fix it or he’ll be unemployed. Either way, it will not be sustained over the full season. And with Clayton Kershaw on track to start a minor league rehab game on Friday, we may only have one or two more Maholm starts to look forward to.

However! Brandon League came on to pitch two scoreless innings, and I know how you all feel about praising League, but… this was his third straight scoreless outing. On April 12, he was atrocious against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and four baserunners in just 0.2 of an inning. In six other games? He’s thrown 9.1 innings, allowed just one earned run, given up seven hits, and put up a 7/2 K/BB. I’m not saying he’s “fixed” or anything like that; I am saying that he looks better and might not be the huge problem we all think of him as. (And also that as usual, ERA for relievers in short samples is terribly misleading.)

Oh, and none of this mattered tonight because Lee is a beautiful artist genius who shut down the Dodgers over eight innings on just four hits, all singles, walking none, whiffing 10, and retiring 244 in a row, probably. (20, really, until Tim Federowicz singled in the eighth.) It took 113 pitches. He high-fived kids before he hit. It’s the kind of thing where you can’t even be angry or upset. You just stand in awe of the masterpiece in front of you.

But how do you feel about all of this, Yasiel Puig?

But hey! At least we got to see Scott Van Slyke in center field for two innings. The Phillies didn’t hit him a single ball. I may never get over it.

In happier news: the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Padres all lost. Bronson Arroyo gave up a double and a homer to his pitching counterpart Travis Wood. Arizona is now 5-17. You probably should never say a season is over, but if you figure 90 wins as a minimum to win the division, they merely need to go 85-60 over the rest of the year. Gooood luck with that.

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.

Dodgers
Giants
7:15 pm PT
San Francisco, CA
2B
Gordon
CF
Pagan
LF
Crawford
RF
Pence
SS
Ramirez
3B
Sandoval
1B
Gonzalez
C
Posey
CF
Kemp
LF
Morse
RF
Ethier
1B
Belt
3B
Uribe
2B
Hicks
C
Butera
SS
Arias
P
Maholm (L)
P
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.

Giants 7, Dodgers 2: Paul Maholm ineffective, offense quiet

maholm_paul_4.5.14As if dropping yesterday’s home opener wasn’t bad enough, the Dodgers sputtered through a 7-2 defeat on Saturday against the Giants.

Starter Paul Maholm was pitching decently enough (two runs through four innings) before the wheels fell of in the fifth inning. Maholm hung a 2-1 slider to Pablo Sandoval with two runners on, and Sandoval didn’t miss it. That made it 5-1 Giants, and Buster Posey would follow that 3-run homer up with a solo shot of his own.

For the second consecutive day, it seemed like the Dodgers didn’t have a great look at the ball game — and neither days should be blamed on Yasiel Puig. Speaking of Puig, he was shaken up on an infield single when he, unnecessarily, slide head-first into first base. He remained in the game.

The offense managed nine hits today, but they only resulted in two runs. Madison Bumgarner was sharp, striking out 10 Dodgers in 6 1/3 innings (the Dodgers would strike out 12 times on the afternoon).

It was a rare game in which Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier didn’t start because of a tough left-handed pitcher on the hill, but Don Mattingly‘s fool-proof strategy of batting the second baseman second didn’t work out so well. Ironically, Scott Van Slyke — playing for Crawford in left field — scored both the Dodgers’ runs.

Something of note: Kenley Jansen worked for the first time since Tuesday in the ninth inning, but he could only retire two hitters while allowing a hit and a walk. Jamey Wright got the third out on two pitches.

The Dodgers will try to salvage the series on Sunday Night Baseball (ESPN) at 5 p.m. Zack Greinke squares off against Matt Cain. Rest assured, Ethier will be in the lineup, as he owns the best hitting line against Cain of any current Dodger (.441/.467/.574).

Fifth Starter Day: Good For Maholm, Less So For Beckett

beckett_2014-03-08Josh Beckett faced 14 batters tonight against Seattle. Seven reached base, and while that’s bad, look at it this way: only four stayed there! …because three (Jesus Montero, Stefen Romero, and Justin Smoak) crushed dingers and needed only to jog lightly around the bases. Extrapolated over a full season, that puts him on pace for approximately 382,918 homers allowed. (Roughly.)

That’s pretty terrible, though of course the normal spring training caveats do apply, and Beckett told SNLA’s Alanna Rizzo after his outing that he was attempting to work on his fastball. And really, that’s the kind of thing that’s so easy to forget about spring training. It’s about the work, not the outcome. In a game that counts, you would pay more attention to the scouting report, attacking a hitter’s weakness. In March, you want to get your work in, and if the ball lands 400 feet away, well, so be it.

Usually, anyway. We can brush off lousy Clayton Kershaw starts pretty easily, and we have. If this were 2007-era Beckett, we’d do the same. Of course, this Beckett is 33, coming off a lost season, and at least theoretically battling Paul Maholm for a rotation spot — and it’s hard not to notice that a few hours before Beckett got lit up, Maholm struck out four Rangers over three innings, allowing a single run.

This was only the second outing of the spring for each pitcher, and so obviously not all that much should be read into it. Still, Beckett can’t afford lousy games like Kershaw can, and this isn’t likely to quiet any questions about that last starter spot.

***

The good news! Joc Pederson arguably had two homers tonight himself, though one turned into a double when it was uncertain whether it had actually gone out or not. Either way, he hit the ball off the end of the bat and still basically got it out of the park, and so we’ll look past the defensive miscommunication that let a ball drop, which had it been caught, may have averted a Beckett homer (since the inning may have ended). Dee Gordon reached twice and stole twice — that’s seven for seven this spring — while looking like far more of a second baseman than he ever did a shortstop.

Via Chad, here’s that Pederson blast:


GIF Link

YES PLEASE.

Paul Maholm Is Apparently Going To Be A Dodger

It didn’t take long for spring training news to happen, did it? After being tied to Bronson Arroyo (who signed with Arizona on Fridy) for so long, the Dodgers have apparently and quickly signed a consolation prize. Paul Maholm reportedly has a locker in Camelback Ranch. He is apparently taking his physical now. While we don’t yet know the financial details, it’s probably a major league contract for one year, potentially with an option. The money is probably fine, but the need is somewhat questionable. (UPDATE: The money is, in fact, fine. 1.5 million guaranteed with “significant incentives” according to Ken Gurnick. Dylan Hernandez reports that incentives could bring the total value of the deal to 6.5 million.)

Where does Maholm fit on the Dodgers? The top four starters in the rotation are set in stone: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Dan Haren. The fifth spot, which we have examined a few times, is up for grabs. The Dodgers went into spring training last year with eight pitchers capable of starting. After adding Maholm, they’ll have 10 this year. The adage of “you can never have too much pitching” is true, but Maholm doesn’t really represent much of an upgrade. Then again, the Dodgers aren’t bringing him in to throw 200-plus innings, so this is a relatively low-risk signing.

This signing might have one immediate impact: Josh Beckett‘s time in a Dodger uniform is probably over. The Dodgers apparently aren’t confident in Beckett’s health and/or pitching ability enough to let him compete for the No. 5 job. His $15.75 million price tag alone suggests he’d win the job, but the fact the Dodgers don’t need a fifth starter much in April could have something to do with it.

More likely, the Dodgers will, somehow, cut ties with Beckett before the season starts. They could trade him, though there probably isn’t much of a market. They might stash him on the disabled list (if possible) like they did with Ted Lilly last season. Most likely, they’ll designate him for assignment. Either way, it’s hard to see him throwing a pitch for the Dodgers in 2014.

As a result, the last spot in the rotation is probably Maholm’s to lose. It’s highly unlikely a guy like Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Zach Lee or Ross Stripling would pitch well enough in spring training to win the spot over Maholm. It’s not like they won’t pitch well, but they’d have to nearly perfect to beat out a crafty, veteran lefty with a major league contract (probably). On the bright side, it gives all four of them (well, three, as Fife isn’t going to get any better) a little more time to hone their skills in the minors.

Maholm isn’t a power pitcher by any means. His career average fastball velocity is 88.6 MPH, but he hasn’t averaged above that since 2009. He has a “classic’ starters’ repertoire, adding a slider, curveball and changeup to his fastball. His slider is his best off-speed pitch, with a value of 24.1 runs above average over the course of his career, according to Fangraphs. His curveball is the only other above average pitch, with a +0.7 run rating. His changeup and fastball are -10.2 and -39.5, which is a bit surprising.

Maholm is coming off of a down year. His ERA of 4.41 wasn’t too far above his career average of 4.28, but after adjusting for park and run environment it was nearly the worst season of his career (120 ERA-). He was left off of the Braves’ playoff roster for Freddy Garcia, who wasn’t exactly an appealing alternative.

Maholm also only managed 153 innings last season (and only 37 2/3 after the all star break), his lowest since breaking into the big leagues in 2005. He missed nearly a month with a throwing wrist sprain and missed a start in late September due to pitching elbow “inflammation”. This probably means that the physical isn’t a formality, but at least the Dodgers have the depth to overcome potential re-aggravation of these injuries.

If there’s any reason for hope for a rebound next season, it deep within Maholm’s peripherals. His FIP last year wasn’t great (4.24), but his xFIP was better (3.89). Maholm allowed a HR/FB of 13.8 percent last season, ninth-highest among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. His xFIP was nearly league average (103 xFIP-), about in line with the rest of his career. While moving to the Dodgers will actually hurt him slightly in terms of home run park factors, bad luck might have been a factor last season. Yasiel Puig might disagree, though:

Projection systems think Maholm has a chance to rebound. Steamer projects a 4.29 ERA and 3.95 FIP in 144 innings (in Atlanta), which is good enough for a 1.5 WAR by its metric. ZiPS is a bit more optimistic, projecting a 3.91 ERA and 3.94 FIP in 147 1/3 innings, which would give him a WAR of around 2. Both projections have him in the neighborhood of a league-average pitcher for 150 innings, which would be excellent for the money the Dodgers are probably giving to him.

And, really, that’s about in line with the rest of Maholm’s career. He’s been a nearly league-average pitcher by ERA (4.28), FIP (4.18) and xFIP (4.14). He’s only had one career bullpen appearance, so he might not be the ideal candidate to be a swingman during the beginning of the season. The time without requiring a fifth starter might help rest his arm a bit after the injuries last season, though.

Once the deal is officially announced, the Dodgers will need to make a 40-man roster decision, as there are no vacant spots right now. The simplest solution is to place Scott Elbert on the 60-day disabled list, as he’s out until at least midseason, if not longer. If that isn’t an option (due to the rules), perhaps a guy like Justin Sellers or Javy Guerra is designated for assignment to make room for Maholm. (UPDATE: Elbert was placed on the disabled list to make room for Maholm.)

It’s a 1-year deal, it’s likely cheap and gives the Dodgers some depth. It also doesn’t require them to give up a draft pick. Overall, it’s hard not to be OK with this deal (unless you’re Josh Beckett, that is).

Dustin Nosler also contributed to this post.