Daily Distractions: On further review, Yasiel Puig isn’t focused on being more patient this year.

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig is riding a 14-game hitting streak, the longest of his career. (Andy Holzman/Staff photographer)

One thing left on the chopping block from my story on Yasiel Puig’s sophomore surge is something I didn’t expect to hear from Mark McGwire.

I expected that the Dodgers’ hitting coach would have talked to Puig about being more patient at the plate this season. Like, a lot. FanGraphs recently pointed out that Puig is one of six players who has dropped his percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone by more than 10 percent from one season to the next.

Here’s what McGwire said:

It’s not a thing we talk about a lot. He understands it. We talked about it a lot last year. The biggest thing is learning how this game is played here. To me, the more patient you are, the more the pitches are going to come to you. The more impatient you are, the more the pitchers are going to go away from you. He got a lot of that in the second half of his season last year up here in the big leagues.

Rather, McGwire said that Puig has taken a sort of divide-and-conquer approach at the plate — focusing on one half or the other, depending on which pitcher is on the mound. Here’s one more McGwire quote I left out concerning that approach:

The time that you cover 17 inches is the when the baseball looks like a beach ball. you have the confidence like, ‘it doesn’t matter what you throw, if it’s over the white part of the plate, I’m going to kill it.’ Then there’s times where you have to pick one side of the plate or the other. Most pitchers today live away. Some pitchers live in. It’s just pick or choose, based on who’s on the mound. Me and John Valentin have a chart and things that we talk about prior to each series. We talk to the hitters as they go up to the plate, what to expect, this is what to do, where they usually live.

It’s helping Puig the most against right-handed pitchers. This season, his lefty/righty splits are almost evenly excellent:

That wasn’t quite as true last year:

Some bullet points for a Chocolate Chip Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: April Dodger Pride award winners include a couple top prospects.

Corey Seager

Shortstop Corey Seager had a strong month of April at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (Staff photo)

The end of the month is always a good time to check in on the Dodgers’ farm system, because a good month comes with an award.

The Dodger Pride Awards were created in 2008 by GM Ned Colletti to reward one pitcher and one position player at each level of the system “who play the game with a hustling, smart, aggressive style.” The players and staff on each respective club vote for the monthly awards.

Your April winners:

Albuquerque (AAA)

Pitcher: Henry Sosa posted a 1-0 record with a 2.61 ERA (9 ER/31.0 IP) in April, striking out 21 batters against seven walks in five starts. The right-hander held opposing batters to a .233 batting average (27-for-116), while allowing only one home run in the month. The 12-year professional, who made 10 starts for the Houston Astros in 2011, was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent on December 13, 2013.

Player: Joc Pederson finished April among the Pacific Coast League leaders in several offensive categories including batting average (.398, 2nd), runs (22, T-3rd), hits (39, 1st), home runs (6, T-3rd), and stolen bases (9, T-2nd). On the year, the left-handed hitting outfielder is batting .368 (50-for-136) with 11 home runs and 22 RBI, including a .418 batting average (38-for-91) against right-handed pitching. Through 36 games this season, Pederson has also tallied 15 multi-hit games, including six performances with three or more hits. He entered 2014 as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America.  

Chattanooga (AA)

Pitcher: Tyson Brummett went 2-1 and allowed only one run in 23.0 innings spanning four April starts, leading the Southern League in ERA (0.39) and ranking sixth in opponents’ batting average (.181). On the season, the former UCLA pitcher is 3-3 with a 0.83 ERA (4 ER/43.1 IP) and has allowed one run or less in six of his seven starts for the Lookouts. With runners in scoring position this season, the right-hander has allowed only four hits (4-for-36), good for a .111 batting average. Brummett signed with the Dodgers as a free agent on February 20, 2014, after being drafted by the Phillies in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

Player: Scott Schebler drove in 16 runs (T-7th, Southern League) and clubbed five homers (T-2nd, Southern League) in 25 April games. The Iowa native had a .258 batting average with six homers, four triples and 21 RBI, and has excelled in clutch situations, batting .300 (9-for-30) with runners in scoring position. The 23-year-old, a 26th-round draft pick in 2010, was the Dodgers’ 2013 Branch Rickey Minor League Player of the Year after batting .296 in 125 games for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga last season.

Rancho Cucamonga (High-A)

Pitcher: Matt Shelton went 1-1 in April with a 1.76 ERA (3 ER/15.1 IP) in eight appearances for the Quakes, limiting opponents to a .228 batting average (13-for-57) and pitching scoreless relief in seven of his eight outings. The Texas native struck out 14 batters and walked only one in April before being promoted to Chattanooga on May 1. The 25-year-old was selected in the 24th round of the 2011 draft.

Player: Corey Seager batted .294 (25-for-85) in April with 10 extra-base hits, while tallying 13 RBI in 20 games. The 20-year-old has raised his average to .333 (40-for-120) with two homers, 11 doubles, two triples and 15 RBI, batting .429 (15-for-35) with a .512 on-base percentage in nine May games. Seager entered 2014 as the Dodgers’ second-best prospect according to Baseball America.

Great Lakes (Low-A)

Pitcher: Michael Johnson posted a 1-1 record with a 1.35 ERA (2 ER/13.1 IP) and a save in eight April appearances. The right-handed reliever limited opposing hitters to a .200 batting average (10-for-50) with 19 strikeouts and five walks. On the season, the Massachusetts native has a 1.47 ERA (3 ER/18.1 IP) and 22 strikeouts in 11 appearances for the Loons. The 23-year-old, a 14th-round pick in the 2013 draft, led the Ivy League with seven wins as a senior at Dartmouth College in 2012.

PlayerJoey Curletta had a terrific April, finishing among the Midwest League leaders in batting average (.368, 2nd), runs (18, T-3rd), hits (39, 1st), doubles (9, T-3rd) and RBI (15, T-6th) in 25 games for Great Lakes. Overall, Curletta has posted a .356 batting average (52-for-146) in 35 games, second among Midwest League hitters, and has seven three-hit performances for Great Lakes. The Arizona native was selected by the Dodgers in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.

Some bullet points for a Frog Jumping Day:

Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Who will be the Dodgers’ backup catcher when A.J. Ellis returns from the disabled list?

A.J. Ellis, Brian Gorman

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis will play in a Triple-A rehab game today. (Karl Gehring/The Denver Post)

A.J. Ellis will play his second rehab game for Triple-A Albuquerque in as many days today. It could be his last. Tuesday is smack-dab in the middle of the 4 to 6 week timetable the team gave at the time of the arthroscopic procedure on Ellis’ left knee, so it would make perfect sense for him to rejoin the Dodgers then.

Without Ellis, the catching duties have been split fairly liberally among Miguel Olivo, Drew Butera and Tim Federowicz, who’s currently in Triple-A. Which of the three becomes the backup once Ellis returns?

“If you want me to make that decision now, I probably can’t do that,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said before Sunday’s game against the Giants, a 7-4 loss. “I wouldn’t want to do that anyway. We’ll figure that out as we get there. It comes down to conversations, us talking about what we need, what we want that position to be and what we think about it.”

Mattingly said the conversations have already begun.

When imagining where the conversation begins, it’s tempting to focus on offense. There isn’t much to look at there. Olivo started hot, but in his last 11 at-bats he has no hits and eight strikeouts. Overall he is 5 for 23 (.217). Butera is 10 for 44 (.227) with two home runs. Federowicz was 5 for 46 (.109) with one home run before his demotion.

Of course, the Dodgers aren’t focusing on offense from their catchers. More important to the conversation is how each player handles the position defensively and how well they work with the pitching staff. Those are harder to quantify, especially in a small sample size.

Nonetheless, here we go.

Butera has the lowest catchers’ ERA of the bunch (2.90, 10th in baseball) and hasn’t made an error. He’s also tied for the league lead in passed balls (four) and has thrown out only one of four attempted base stealers.

Of course, passed balls are a judgment call. Olivo wasn’t charged with a passed ball last night when J.P. Howell threw a slider in the dirt in the 10th inning. But because Olivo didn’t keep the ball in front him, a runner was able to score from third base. In 54 innings, Olivo has a 4.73 catchers’ ERA. Two baserunners have tried stealing on him; one was caught.

Pitch framing is not an asset for any of the Dodgers’ catchers, according to StatCorner.com.

We could parse Federowicz’s numbers, but his contract status separates him from this discussion if Olivo, Butera and Ellis are healthy. Federowicz can be optioned to the minors at any time. He’ll stay there so long as he continues to miss 48 percent of the breaking pitches he swings at. (That was his miss rate in the majors.) Butera and Olivo are out of options, so one of the two will probably be designated for assignment in the next 48 hours.

“We’ve been pretty clear about what we like out of our catchers,” Mattingly said. “The backup catcher … you’re not playing as much. You want to make sure that you’re getting the right guy back there for all the things you’re asking him to do — studying, working with pitchers, all those things because it’s just what we want out of the position. As much as what we’re looking for offensively … it’s what we’re looking for out of the position.”

Some bullet points for an International Nurses Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: A scout’s take on Erisbel Arruebarrena.

Erisbel Arruebarrena

Infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena is batting .136 for the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate.

Erisbel Arruebarrena provided a nice distraction during spring training. Reporters covering the Dodgers spent countless minutes rolling our “R”s, trying to pronounce Arruebarrena, figuring out how many “U”s were in the name, and mostly waiting for the 24-year-old shortstop to arrive in the U.S.

When he finally did get his visa and arrive in spring training on March 13, the Cuban shortstop was shuffled to the Dodgers’ minor-league camp. Then the major-leaguers left for Australia. Hardly anyone got to see the kid play baseball.

Nearly two months later there he is, taking up a space on the 40-man roster and $25 million of the Dodgers’ payroll over the next five years. Ever since Arruebarrena reported to Double-A Chattanooga, he’s proceeded to bat .136/.188/.220, which hardly seems to justify a $25 million contract. Was this signing a mistake? Was rolling my “R”s one big time-killerrrrrr?

A pro scout who recently watched Arruebarrena in the Southern League chimed in with this report.

I’d say Erisbel’s current offensive numbers are an accurate representation of his abilities – he has a long/loopy swing, almost like a golf swing that struggles to make contact with any type of pitch. He has serious recognition problems vs. AA-effective secondary stuff, turning his back early & often vs. almost all curveballs/sliders. Those things combined lead to rare contact on mistake fastballs only, or if a pitcher makes a bad decision to throw him the same loopy curveball three times in a row.

That said, him at SS is sometimes awesome to watch; way above instincts, really easy/super-quick receive-and-throw actions deep in the hole or going up the middle with a really good feel to complete very tough plays. He did flash a couple mental errors, like dropping a popup or ball bouncing off his glove with the infield in. Even with the bat how it is now I’d like to have him in my organization, because his floor is first-division middle infield-utility. As he gets comfortable over the next couple seasons in the US I think his feel/baseball IQ will improve a bit/less mental errors on both sides. I see him as a mid-.500s OPS guy but with major league top-5 shortstop defense.

Make of that what you will. It’s the most up-to-date scouting report we have on a player we know little about, perhaps the least known member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.

Some bullet points for a Europe Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ “old-timers game” lineup is a star-studded affair.

Shawn Green

Former Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green, who participated in the 2013 World Baseball Classic for Team Israel, looks like he can still play. (Associated Press photo)

One of the first fantasy baseball leagues I participated in was a “legacy” league back in the 1990s. You could draft players from any era. Old Hoss Radbourn was in the league. So was Lyman Bostock.

That memory was rekindled when the Dodgers announced the list of participants for Saturday’s “old-timer’s game,” which will be played at Dodger Stadium after the 1 p.m. game between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

I mean, an outfield of Darryl Strawberry, Dusty Baker and Raul Mondesi? An infield of Nomar Garciaparra, Maury Wills and Eric Karros?

Admission to the game is free with a ticket to the Dodgers-Giants game. Introductions will be followed by a two-inning game. The full list of participants:

Team 1 (will wear Dodger home jerseys)
Dusty Baker OF
Tim Wallach 3B
Mickey Hatcher SS/OF
Steve Sax 2B
Mike Marshall 1B
Reggie Smith OF/1B
Steve Yeager C
Raul Mondesi OF
Davey Lopes 2B
Darryl Strawberry 1B/OF
Ron Cey 3B
Eric Gagné P
Fernando Valenzuela P

Team 2 (will wear Dodger alternate road jerseys)
Shawn Green OF
Derrel Thomas 2B/C
Bill Russell SS
Ken Landreaux OF
Eric Karros 1B
Rick Monday OF
Nomar Garciaparra 3B
Maury Wills SS
Steve Finley OF
Orel Hershiser P
Rick Honeycutt P

Additionally, Tommy Davis, Charlie Hough, “Sweet” Lou Johnson, Manny Mota, Don Newcombe and Jerry Reuss will be on hand and a part of Old-Timers pre-game introductions.

Some bullet points for a South Korean Parents’ Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Fans’ outrage toward Dodgers, Time Warner now includes an online petition.

Vin Scully
A fan petition calling on the Dodgers and Time Warner cable to “broker a deal” with local cable providers and “stop the defacto blackout” of the club on local television has 491 signatures on the website FansRising.com.

The campaign is planning additional action to raise attention to the issue, according to a press release from Fans Rising. Comments left by fans reveal that multiple petition signers are elderly fans no longer able to attend games who can’t watch on television.

“I saw my first Dodger game at Ebbets Field in 1938 and have been a faithful fan ever since,” wrote Doris Schalk. “I am now 84 and unable to drive, so don’t get to many games anymore, but being able to watch them all these years has been a god-send. The radio guys are very good – BUT I miss my Vin AND my Dodgers.”

Some bullet points for a Hump Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: The Dodgers are leading Major League Baseball into the Land of Lethargy.

Don Mattingly

The Dodgers and Washington Nationals sat through more than three hours of rain delays Monday night. (Associated Press photo)

Even when the Dodgers are fast, they’re slow.

Yesterday’s 4-0 loss to the Washington Nationals, which began at 7:05 p.m. in Washington, D.C., ended at 1:22 a.m. If you choose not to count the three hours, 17 minutes of rain-delay time toward the official time of game — this is what MLB does — the game lasted 2 hours and 59 minutes. In reality, more than six hours passed from the first pitch to the last, and the human beings at Nationals Park yesterday felt every second of it.

How many of those human beings made it past midnight? You’ll only need one hand for this exercise:

What’s really scary is that yesterday’s game was the Dodgers’ fastest in nearly two weeks. Not since they beat the Philadelphia Phillies 5-2 on April 23 have the Dodgers finished a game in less than three hours — again, officially.

There’s a trend around baseball for games getting longer. Has been for a while. A year ago, six teams finished games in less than three hours on average. In 2012 that number was 15. Dial it back 10 years to 2004 and only one team, the Baltimore Orioles, averaged as many as three hours per game.

This year? Only two teams — Cincinnati and San Diego — are finishing in less than three hours. And those two clubs are averaging 2:59 per game. The meaning of the 3-hour mark has been completely flipped on its head.

Unfortunately the Dodgers are leading the way in this department, with an MLB-worst 3:25 average time of game. Might as well sit back, find a good blog to read between innings, and enjoy the ride.

If you want to reach for a positive, try this one: The team who played the longest games last season, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series.

Some bullet points for an International No Diet Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Who are the Dodgers without Clayton Kershaw?

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw will start tomorrow against the Washington Nationals. (Associated Press photo)

Since the start of the 2009 season until a month ago, the Dodgers have had the luxury of a healthy Clayton Kershaw at all times. In terms of fWAR, Kershaw has been the National League’s best pitcher during that time period. Being healthy helps a player’s WAR and he certainly helps a team’s won-loss total.

But how much? Who are the Dodgers without their best pitcher? Until recently, that’s been hard to say.

Speaking last August about Kershaw’s credentials for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Don Mattingly said that “as a manager you see how important (he) is every fifth day. He goes deep into games, saves your bullpen, stops losing streaks, extends winning streaks. you can’t hardly put it — it’s just big. He’s got to be considered.”

It’s been 45 days since Kershaw last pitched. In that time, their run differential is plus-9, their record is 17-14, and their bullpen is taxed. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten more innings out of their bullpen this season, and the Diamondbacks have played two more games. The Dodgers have needed more innings from their relievers on a per-game basis than any major-league team. That’s partly a function of their eight extra-inning games, which leads the major leagues.

It’s also a function of Kershaw’s absence. Last year, the burden that Kershaw took off the Dodgers’ bullpen was something Mattingly had to imagine; this year it is very real. The proof is in the numbers. While the other starters have picked up the slack (they’re 13-5 with a 3.06 ERA, sixth in MLB), the Dodger bullpen has exuded mediocrity. Their 3.79 ERA ranks 15th and they’re going unusually deep into counts against opposing batters. Only three major-league bullpens are averaging more pitches per plate appearance than the Dodgers’. Their high innings-pitched total doesn’t even tell the full story.

How much impact can Kershaw have on an entire pitching staff — an entire team? We’ll check back in another 45 days.

According to an interview Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti did with ESPN, Kershaw will be cleared to throw 100 pitches tomorrow.

“I think he looked sharper in the two rehab games,” Colletti said, “than he did in Australia.”

Kershaw allowed one run in 6 ⅔ innings in Australia.

Some bullet points for a Cinco De Mayo:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: On close calls on the basepaths, has Yasiel Puig run out of luck?

Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig has been thrown out on the bases seven times this season. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers have seen 15 runners thrown out on the basepaths this season. That’s two fewer than the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals in a statistical category that no team wants to lead.

Yasiel Puig is single-handedly responsible for seven of those misfortunes, tied with Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte for the MLB lead. Puig was doubled off first base in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader in Minnesota. Umpire Tim Welke had a good look at the play from his vantage point at second base. Welke had an even better look at this play in the night game (from Yahoo.com):

With one out, Puig beat out a chopper up the middle that second baseman Brian Dozier threw in the dirt to first base. Chris Colabello couldn’t pick it and the ball hopped past him, with catcher Yosmil Pinto backing up the play. After he ran through the bag, Puig sharply turned his head to the right to check for the ball’s location. It was evident from Puig’s body language that Puig wanted to take an extra base, but when he saw Pinto with the ball, he applied the brakes. If Puig’s left shoulder began to dip toward second, the rest of his body actually leaned right. He never left the baseline, never crossed the foul line. He stopped, turned around clockwise (that’s away from second base), and started walking back to the bag like an innocent man who just had hit an infield single.

When Pinto tagged Puig, Welke signaled that Puig was out. Was that the right call? Judge for yourself.

The Yahoo! article suggested that Welke “seemed to be looking for a reason to call Puig out.” Without interviewing Welke, a veteran of 29 major-league seasons and the crew chief last night, it’s impossible to know that for sure.

Psychology tells us that there might have been a very real phenomenon at work. It’s called the confirmation bias and we’re all susceptible to it at some point, on some level. Reading further into the well-sourced Wikipedia entry on the topic, “even if people gather and interpret evidence in a neutral manner, they may still remember it selectively to reinforce their expectations.”

A player who’s already been thrown out on the basepaths six times in a month (Puig) can be reasonably expected to make the same mistake again. Puig’s mistake in the first game might have reinforced that expectation for everyone in the ballpark, including the second-base umpire. Given a split second to make his call at first base in the second game, Welke could easily have fallen prey to confirmation bias. That’s not an opinion — that’s a real possibility, reinforced repeatedly in scientifically valid experiments. Welke might not have been aware of a possible confirmation bias at work in his own mind. Even if reporters were given the chance to interview him after the game, the interview might not have cleared up the question.

Here’s what we do know: The more outs he runs into, the more Puig hurts his chances of getting the benefit of the doubt in situations like the one Thursday night in Minnesota.

Thursday was still a good day for Puig on the whole. The Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN) said that Puig is the first Dodgers player to reach base eight times in a doubleheader since Bill Buckner against the Giants in 1976.

Some bullet points for a Baby Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Red Patterson up, will start second game of doubleheader in MLB debut.

Nick Buss

Outfielder Nick Buss was designated for assignment Thursday. (Associated Press photo)

Red Patterson‘s major-league debut will come in the second game of a doubleheader today against the Minnesota Twins.

The Dodgers selected the contract of Patterson from Triple-A Albuquerque and designated Albuquerque outfielder Nick Buss for assignment. Patterson, who will wear No. 51, was added to the roster as the 26th man for today’s doubleheader. Major-league rules allow teams to dress 26 players in a day-night doubleheader that has been on the schedule for at least 24 hours.

Patterson went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in four starts this season with the Isotopes, last pitching on April 24 at Fresno and allowing five runs on nine hits in 5.1 innings in a loss. The 26-year-old has gone 33-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 132 games (58 starts) in five minor league seasons after he was selected in the 29th round of the 2010 draft out of Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Patterson has 432 strikeouts, while walking only 148, in 440.0 career minor league innings.

The Texas native made his first appearance in Major League camp this year as a non-roster invitee and allowed only one run in 11.2 innings (0.77 ERA), going 0-1 and limiting opponents to a .146 batting average (6-for-41). As for the name, shared by a longtime Dodgers PR director, it comes from his hair color. Patterson’s real first name is John.

Buss, 27, had a .261/.330/.391 slash line in 26 games with Albuquerque. He was buried on an outfield depth chart that includes Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke and Chone Figgins. Mike Baxter was designated for assignment in March. Buss went 2-for-19 after making his major-league debut with the Dodgers last September.

Here are the lineups for both teams in Game 1. First pitch is scheduled for 10:10 a.m.

Dodgers:
Gordon 2B
Puig RF
Ramirez SS
Gonzalez 1B
Kemp DH
Ethier CF
Uribe 3B
Olivo C
Crawford LF
Haren P

Twins:
Dozier 2B
Mauer 1B
Plouffe 3B
Kubel LF
Pinto DH
Suzuki C
Fuld RF
Hicks CF
Escobar SS
Pelfrey P

Some bullet points for a World Book Day:
Continue reading