Mailbag #2: Billingsley, Numata, Kemp, Spring Training

Mailbag! Don’t forget to hit us with new questions using the form at the right. Lots of good questions today, and the lineups for today’s game against Milwaukee and old friend Elian Herrera are below, though it sounds more than questionable at the moment if the weather is going to allow the game to be played.


John: “We seem pretty set to me with the pitching. I know we don’t have much depth in certain areas, but if Billingsley comes back strong, and so do Beckett and others, who would we trade as a starting pitcher and what could we realistically get for him?”

All reports on Chad Billingsley‘s recovery have been stellar so far, and he’s expected to try throwing breaking balls for the first time today. Even so, he’s a good three months from being big-league ready — don’t forget, he’ll need at least a few rehab starts in the minors first — and as we learned last year, so, so much can happen in three months. Maybe Josh Beckett gets hurt again or is just awful. Maybe Hyun-jin Ryu decides he loves Australia and never wants to come home. So it’s all a bit premature right now.

Brewers (ss)
12:05pm PT
Maryvale, Ariz.
Van Slyke

But, let’s say that Billingsley is ready to come back and everyone is somehow still healthy and productive. What then? It’s maybe not the worst idea in the world to ease him back into the bigs in relief, though it’s not like the bullpen has a lot of openings, either. Safe to say, this is not  a bad problem to have.

James: “Any way you guys can keep us up to date on TWC negotiations with other providers as to if and when the rest of us might get Sports Net LA? It’s hard being in the dark about it all with the season fast approaching.”

Of course! So far, it’s still only TWC in Los Angeles and Bright House in Bakersfield, with some additional markets to come there, as we outlined a few days ago. As I said at the time, no one should be surprised that there would be gaps on launch day. But as the season looms, fan discontent will grow, and we’ll keep an eye on all of that for you here.

Brian: “Hey guys, do you have any info on Takumi Numata. I don’t see him on our Top 50, which is kinda unfortunate since we got in a big fuss with Japan over him.”

After some controversy about whether foreign teams should sign Japanese high school players, the Dodgers officially signed the 19-year-old righty in December, and he’s expected to be in minor league camp in Arizona, maybe starting off in extended spring training and potentially landing in Rookie league Ogden.

Chad provided some detail on him at the time, indicating that he’s likely a reliever, and sharing this scouting report (from Kazuto Yamazaki via Jonathan Mayo): At 6-1, 188 pounds (that’s according to the release), it doesn’t sound like there’s that much physical projection to look for. His fastball sits in the upper 80s to low 90s, according to the report, topping out at 92 mph. He goes right after hitters with it and largely pitches off of his fastball, though he also has a slider.

Gabe: “Hey guys, LOVE the new blog. In a perfect world where we don’t consider contracts, would you choose Andre Ethier over Carl Crawford as an everyday outfielder? Dre had a better OPS+ and WAR last season, even with his noted struggles against lefties. I guess the hope is Crawford returns to 2010 form?”

In a world where we don’t consider contracts, I’m not entirely sure Crawford is on the team. Remember, he was essentially a tax that the Dodgers had to swallow in order to get Adrian Gonzalez, and while he was surprisingly useful — I’m not going to complain about 2.9 WAR — I imagine that if he didn’t have $82.5m left on his contract, the team might have moved him by now, if only to make room for Joc Pederson.

Crawford turns 33 in August and it’s not realistic to expect him to get back to his peak, especially with continued leg issues. Then again, considering how awful his 2011-12 seasons were in Boston, merely being a two-to-three win player is useful, even if wildly out of proportion with his contract.

But to answer your question, I’m not convinced yet that they need to choose. Ethier will almost certainly be playing center in Australia, leaving left for Crawford, and until Matt Kemp proves that he’s fully healthy, the Dodgers don’t have four outfielders. Good news on that last front, however — Ken Gurnick reports that his MRI was “favorable,” and that Kemp will be “allowed to do more baseball drills.” Of course, he adds “maybe” some running, which means there’s still no real ETA here.

Brian: “If the Dodgers don’t make it to the World Series this year, will the season be a disappointment?”

It will be portrayed that way, sure. The media will laugh at how such an expensive team didn’t make it. The players and executives will say how disappointed they are. Every team says that winning the World Series is their goal, but many of them don’t really have a chance to make it happen. This team does.

That said, winning the World Series is really, really hard, and the team that wins the most regular season games rarely takes the title. The 2001 Mariners (116 wins) didn’t win. Neither did the 1998 Braves (106 wins) or the 2004 Cardinals (105) or the 2002 Yankees and A’s (both 103) or the 2011 Phillies (102) and on and on. Over a short series, talent sometimes takes a backseat to randomness and health, as we saw with Hanley Ramirez last fall. If this team doesn’t make it to October, that’s a huge disappointment. From there, when very good teams like the Cardinals and Nationals and Braves and Tigers and Red Sox and Rays and others await, you cross your fingers and hope.

Nick: “In your 2/19 mailbag, you listed Ross Stripling as trade bait because he didn’t profile well as a reliever. Can you elaborate? Stripling relieved in college and his fastball got a nice boost in shorter outings. Combine that with a plus spike curve and plus command, and he could be a great back-end of the bullpen arm, in my opinion.”

CM: Yeah, sure. I honestly don’t see the plus out-pitch and I do think he’ll work out as a back-end starter. He’s more of a summation of parts than a guy with a plus or plus-plus arm that you might find in the late innings for the Dodgers. Four solid-average to above-average pitches to go along with strike-throwing and sinkerballer/groundballer tendencies profiles as a starter more than a guy you want to put at the back-end and hope that all the balls batters put into play don’t find holes (Brandon League/Ronald Belisario).

MP: Of course, it may not matter now, since we’re waiting to hear how badly he’s mangled his elbow.

Nate: “Read in this past mailbag that the Dodgers have what seems to be a weak bench. I think we have to consider that if Kemp is healthy, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier (or both maybe on LHP starts) are going to be bench players, two guys that have their flaws but would be regular starters in other circumstances and on other teams. Doesn’t that fact mean we have at least a decent bench?”

CM: Was referring mainly to the utility problem on the infield, the outfield reserves should be fine.

Becca: “I would love to see a post about how to watch spring training. You have discussed the value of spring training stats, but then how should we watch theses games? Should there be concern when pitchers miss locations? Or should we watch to see how tired players are rounding the bases? How should we watch spring training games?”

This is a great question, and likely a reaction to Brim’s recent posts on how spring stats don’t matter. And they, really, really don’t, perfectly illustrated by this brief excerpt from former major leaguer Dirk Hayhurst‘s new book:

“They want me to work on a slider, or a cutter, something with that cross-plate action.” He shook his head. “Thing is, I don’t want to add something that I’m not confident in, then spend all spring training getting beat on a hunch they have. You know how often you hear that, right? Guy comes into camp, coaches all want him to learn something new, player does his best to please them, gets his ass kicked, then spends the whole year in Triple-A because he wasn’t true to himself.”

So don’t put any stock whatsoever into ERA’s or batting averages or team wins, especially team wins, since the last few innings are always populated by guys with no prayer to make the big club.

Still, spring training can be useful for some of the reasons you listed above and others that aren’t reflected in the stats, especially for players who came into came with questions. For example, there’s probably no bigger question in camp than whether Alexander Guerrero can play second base, so I’ve been watching every defensive chance of his particularly closely. That’s a similar thing for Dee Gordon, since he claims to have bulked up and might be on his last chance to prove himself with the Dodgers. With the pitchers, I want to know if Brian Wilson‘s hot final weeks are for real.

And of course, there’s the injuries. I want to see how Kemp and Billingsley look as they progress. I want to know if Beckett has anything left. That’s the kind of stuff you watch out for in spring, not the numbers.

About Mike Petriello

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