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: Is Brandon League’s ‘whipping boy’ status deserved?

Brandon League

Brandon League has not allowed a run in five of seven appearances this season, including his last three straight. (Associated Press photo)

When Brandon League‘s name was announced over the Dodger Stadium public-address system in the sixth inning Monday, the reaction was best described as a mixture of boos and cheers and indifference.

When League’s name was brought up in Don Mattingly‘s postgame press conference, the reaction was different: “We feel like he’s been pretty good.”

It’s time to call BS on someone here.

A quick look at League’s 2014 resume:

That’s not terribly difficult to defend as “pretty good.” By comparison, this poor chap faced nine more batters and got two more outs, and doesn’t get booed by his fans:

The second gamelog belongs to Jamey Wright, in case you were wondering. We’re dealing with small sample sizes, but here goes: Wright has the superior ERA (3.38 compared to League’s 3.60). League has the better FIP (2.84 compared to 4.35), but FIP doesn’t show up on the Dodger Stadium display boards. Maybe that explains the boos?

Here’s Mattingly, continued: “I know he got the loss in that game in San Francisco. He’s been throwing the ball pretty good. It’s been negative since last year because he has a little bit of a rough spring. It’s been negative but he’s thrown the ball well. We want to stay realistic. He’s thrown the ball good. He’s given us some good innings. He’s kept games where they should be, given us chances, so he’s doing his job.”

What Mattingly didn’t mention is that League’s $22.5 million, three-year contract makes League the Dodgers’ best-paid relief pitcher. That’s closer money for a sixth-inning reliever. League is certainly paid better than Wright’s $1.8 million deal, which is why Wright (or a young pitcher with contract options like Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez or Paco Rodriguez) will hardly ever get booed. Their contracts are more readily expendable. League’s contract, a seagull bordering on an albatross, is not. For fans, that comes with certain expectations.

Ever since League lost the closer’s job and finished the 2013 season with a 5.30 ERA, it seems like there’s been no turning back. He is the whipping boy. Juan Uribe was in a similar position in 2011 and 2012, but was able to turn it around.

Maybe League can turn his reputation around too. Apparently it’ll take more than seven “pretty good” appearances.

Speaking of which, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area had a pretty good take on the Giants’ “whipping boys.” Does race have something to do with it?

Some bullet points for an Earth Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: The Dodgers’ starting rotation looks good. So does every team’s.

Aaron Harang

Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang, now with the Atlanta Braves, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Wednesday. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. (Associated Press photo)

I’m going to get off the topic of my fantasy baseball team quickly, promise. Just bear with me for a second.

Something strange happened this week. The first time through my rotation, my five starters gave up a total of one run. The one run belonged to Jose Fernandez (otherwise the miscreant might be booted from my rotation).

Across the majors, in the few games that have been played, pitching has been good so far. Very good. The league-average ERA is 3.31.

To some extent, that makes sense. Pitchers’ arms are healthier now than they will be in September. Some teams have only played two games, meaning they have used only their top two starters — and seen their opponents’ top two. The best pitchers in the world, all those Opening Day starters including Clayton Kershaw, have all pitched once.

The Dodgers aren’t immune to the phenomenon. Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren have allowed a total of three runs in the club’s first five games. That’s encouraging. They will need more encouragement from starters five and six, Paul Maholm and Josh Beckett, while Kershaw rests his bad back. Maholm starts Saturday against the San Francisco Giants.

It’s easy to dismiss the dominance of pitchers, but we might be witnessing the makings of a trend. This season could be a down year for hitting. While they’ve pitched well, the Dodgers are collectively hitting .229. Want to guess where that ranks among the 30 teams? Fourteenth. Sixteen clubs have batted .223 or worse in the early part of the season.

Those numbers will get better, but you wonder when we’ll see the first no-hitter of the season. It might not be long. Former Dodgers pitcher Aaron Harang lost one in the seventh inning of the Braves’ 1-0 win over Milwaukee last night. So did his opponent, Matt Garza. Harang and Garza aren’t elite pitchers anymore, but they were elite Wednesday.

Let’s see if this trend continues.

Some bullet points for a Tweed Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Look out spring training, here comes Sandy Kofuax.

Sandy Koufax

Security guards at Camelback Ranch hold back a large crowd while Sandy Koufax signs autographs on Feb. 18, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sandy Koufax arrived at the Dodgers’ spring training facility Sunday.

If last year was any indication, there is no need to romanticize the meaning of Koufax’s presence here. The greatest pitcher in Dodger history changes the atmosphere in a way that requires no imagination. His first season in camp as a special advisor to chairman Mark Walter was part spectacle, part inspiration, part chaos.

Like a septugenarian southpaw Svengali, Koufax caused complete strangers to huddle together in their aggressive quest for an autograph. Fans surveying the scene went from quietly attentive to loudly impatient. Koufax quickly joined a short list of 78-year-olds who can command multiple security guards while strolling between baseball fields.

When Koufax showed up last year, so did a bunch of pitchers. Pedro Baez, Chris Reed and other fresh-faced hurlers were shuffled in from the minor-league camp to learn from the master. Overnight, the Dodgers’ bullpen went from a tutoring center to the Westminster Dog Show. Every delivery would be scrutinized for imperfections like a poodle’s tail, and the the final judgment would be unassailable. If Koufax thought your curveball needed tweaking, you tweaked your curveball — even if the tweak didn’t take (as was the case for Hyun-Jin Ryu).

Koufax wasn’t in camp more than a few days. During the season, he didn’t often visit Dodger Stadium. Opening Day and the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves were notable exceptions. So it’s unlikely that the novelty of Koufax’s presence will wear off — not now, not ever. He’s a rockstar in a park full of them.

Bad spring training pictures (like mine, above) will be taken, shared and reshared like porn. Koufax porn. Enjoy your Koufax porn, folks. It doesn’t come around often.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: The National League’s best record is within the Dodgers’ reach.

Brian Wilson

The Dodgers are two games behind the Atlanta Braves for the National League’s best record. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

While I spent the weekend at a wedding in which two bridesmaids went chasing after a tossed bouquet like a a couple of defensive linemen going after a fumbled football (congrats Darryl and Amanda!), the Dodgers spent the weekend looking ahead to October.

How else to view the Michael Young trade, with the Phillies unloading their primary third baseman to a Dodgers team that might or might not use him extensively off the bench?

Looking ahead in a way the Dodgers won’t publicly, the best record in the National League is within their reach the next three days in Denver. If the Dodgers sweep the Colorado Rockies, and the New York Mets sweep the Braves in Atlanta (stranger things have happened; the Metropolitans are 4-3 in Atlanta this year), the best record in the National League belongs to the Dodgers. Atlanta is currently two games ahead of the Dodgers, 83-53 compared to 81-55.

The National League team with the best record on October 1 will have home-field advantage throughout the postseason until the World Series, thanks to the American League’s All-Star game victory. All those Dodger wins in July and August that had us reaching for the record books, searching for the best 40- and 50-game stretches in baseball history, might actually mean something after all.

So far as we can tell, the last time the Dodgers held the NL’s best record outright as late as Sept. 4 was in 1978.

And so the journey into scarcely charted territory continues.

More bullet points for Labor Day:
Continue reading

Chad Billingsley to have Tommy John surgery tomorrow.

Chad BillingsleyChad Billingsley will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, leaving the Dodgers without their fifth starter for the remainder of this season and likely part of 2014.

Team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

Billingsley elected to undergo PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections and rehabilitation after partially tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last August. He pitched without pain throughout the winter and into spring training until he developed elbow pain during a bullpen session four days ago. An MRI confirmed an injury to the ligament.
Continue reading

What’s the plan for Aaron Harang? Even the Dodgers’ pitcher isn’t sure.

Aaron HarangAaron Harang tried to remember the last time he regularly pitched out of the bullpen. He reached back and pulled out Oakland, “10 years ago. I was a rookie breaking in. I was the fifth guy. I’d fill in to start.”

Actually, the most relief appearances Harang has made in a single season was two, back in 2010 — Cincinnati, not Oakland. You can forgive the mental lapse. Of his 299 career games, Harang has started all but six. He is not looking forward to number seven.

“It’s not easy when you’re used to a set routine,” he said.

Continue reading

Chad Billingsley will start Thursday in Rancho Cucamonga.

Chad BillingsleyIt’s not every Opening Day that a Single-A baseball team gets an 80-game winner to start its first game of the season.

That will be the case Thursday, when Chad Billingsley takes the hill for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

Billingsley, one of four players on the Dodgers’ disabled list to start the season, said he hasn’t been given an innings limit for the start. That may still come, but the right-hander said he isn’t restricted in any way two weeks after he bruised the index finger on his right hand doing a bunting drill.

Continue reading

Dodgers’ starting rotation watch drags into final week.

The Dodgers still have eight starters in camp, and all eight remain on a starter’s plan. Even Ted Lilly.

“We’ve had some conversations with guys, but at this point everyone is working as starters,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told reporters in Glendale this afternoon. “Anything could happen. Until Opening Day we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve talked about the possibilities of it with guys just so psychologically guys could know where it sits. We’ve tried to prepare for that as much as possible.”

That the Dodgers are in no rush to get a look at Lilly, Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang as relievers is a strong indication that a trade or two (or three) will come soon.