Mark McGwire is expected to be named the Dodgers’ hitting coach soon. As crazy as those words may have seemed, say, five years ago, the hire makes more sense now.
The former slugger was raised in Claremont, played baseball at Damien High School and USC, and now lives in Irvine with his wife and children. The Dodgers need a hitting coach, so why not bring in the man whose Cardinals teams have finished third, second and first in the National League in batting average the last three years?
Of course, McGwire is also the man who would not “talk about the past” in 2005, when he was summoned before Congress to talk about steroids in Major League Baseball. He’s since admitted to using steroids in his career, including when he broke the single-season home run record in 1998 — a time when PED testing was virtually non-existent in baseball. McGwire was far from alone during his era, and the Dodgers already have a former PED user on their coaching staff in Single-A pitching coach Matt Herges. Is the stigma still an issue?
One of my favorite stats from 2012 was this: Eight major-league teams used 50 or more players last season. Most fell into the category of underachievers, or at least underdogs: Boston (56), Toronto (54), Chicago Cubs (53), San Diego (53), Baltimore (52), Houston (50), Oakland (50) …
… And then there were the Dodgers, clocking in at an even 50 players. It was a combination of trades and injuries that brought the Dodgers to 50, all of which factored into their falling short of the playoffs, and left several players hungry for a big bounceback in 2013.
Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Ted Lilly are coming back from surgery. Chad Billingsley is coming back from an injury, at least the team hopes. Juan Uribe is Juan Uribe.
The Dodgers signed Brandon League to a three-year contract yesterday worth $22.5 million. General manager Ned Colletti envisions League closing, though ultimately that decision will fall to manager Don Mattingly. The value of League’s contract makes that seem like a straightforward decision — why pay a guy $7 million-plus to pitch the eighth inning? — but the decision on paper is closer than you might think.
For one thing, League is one of three pitchers who closed games for the Dodgers last year (three-and-a-half, if you include Ronald Belisario’s brief time co-closing with league in September). He, Belisario and Kenley Jansen are all high-strikeout power pitchers with a repertoire worthy of the role. Of course, if Jansen weren’t waiting in the wings at the time, the Dodgers might have continued to let Javy Guerra pitch through his early-season struggles; Guerra finished the season with eight saves and a 2.60 ERA. Arguably, that makes four capable closers in the Dodger bullpen. And while Guerra pitched his way out of the job, Jansen only lost the job because of a health setback.
Among that quartet, League has the most career saves (60). Want to guess how many active major-league pitchers have more? Thirty-seven. Experience isn’t everything — I would rather have League pitching the ninth inning in 2013 than, say, Jason Isringhausen — but the point is that Jansen (34 career saves), Guerra (29) and Belisario (3) aren’t that much less proven in the ninth inning than League.
So for today’s poll question, we give you the manager’s jersey and a baseball to hand to your closer of choice.
Here’s a couple things to keep you busy on this first of three straight off days. The Home Run Derby airs tonight at 5 PST on ESPN. Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, and Prince Fielder will represent the NL.
Jon Paul Morosi at Foxsports.com has a great story on Chad Billingsley’s hometown, Defiance, Ohio.
Since you’re here, we’re wondering, if you had the choice between Chad Billingsley (9-4, 3.38) or Clayton Kershaw (7-5, 3.16) for one start, who’d you pick?
Yes, Billingsley has been the Dodgers ace all season but Kershaw has the potential to be as good or better, as the stats show even in his age-21 season. Think of it as a hypothetical Game 7 must-win situation with each pitcher on four days’ rest. Who would you take considering all factors, with the current Dodger bullpen as is.