In case you missed it: New stat places A.J. Ellis No. 1 in game-calling

San Diego Padres vs Los Angeles Dodgers

For more photos from Friday, visit LA Photog Blog.

By Jon Weisman

Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis — who was thrust into action midway through Friday’s 2-1 victory over San Diego after Yasmani Grandal was injured — has taken some grief in recent times for not being a strong pitch framer. However, according to a report by Harry Pavlidis for ESPN.com, Ellis ranks No. 1 in Major League Baseball in a new statistic measuring game calling: game-calling runs above average (GCAA).

Here’s a fun task: Try quantifying something as ephemeral as game-calling. Well, after a decade of research, that’s just what we’ve managed to do — by crafting a statistical model that attempts to quantify the value of everything from stolen-base prevention and directing pace of play to identifying hitter tendencies like swing behavior in various game situations and knowing which batters expand hit zones in RBI opportunities. Sound complicated? Oh, it is. But based on these factors, and controlling for others, we can now quantify, in runs saved, how well catchers manage their pitchers. …

… Ellis is the best game caller in the business, and now we can actually prove it. His game-calling alone saved the Dodgers 38 runs from 2012 to 2014, though he gave back 19 of those runs with everything else he did behind the plate (see below). Does it hurt to be Ellis? At times, perhaps. But at least now, when that ninth foul tip slaps his once-unheralded (but now-appreciated) inner thigh, it might not sting quite so much.

There’s not a whole lot of detail in describing the methodology behind GCAA, so we’ll see how it stands up to scrutiny. Update: On his Twitter feed, Pavlidis has been adding to the discussion.

Grandal, meanwhile, is uncertain for tonight’s game after being hit in the face in consecutive innings Friday by Yangervis Solarte’s bat and a Matt Kemp foul ball. Triple-A catcher Austin Barnes was removed midway through Oklahoma City’s game Friday in case he needs to be called up. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more details.

In other developments …

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu spoke to reporters post-surgery Friday, and revealed that there was knowledge about his labrum tear two years and 344 innings of 3.17 ERA ago. ” Ryu, his left arm in a sling during a Dodger Stadium news conference, said he was always able to pitch with it and figured he’d be able to again after it flared up in Spring Training,” wrote Gurnick.
  • Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford are not much closer to returning to the Dodger outfield, Don Mattingly told reporters Friday. Puig, who has an .845 OPS in 50 plate appearances, has felt tightness trying to even jog.
  • Double-A Tulsa righty pitcher (and converted outfielder) Blake Smith was traded by the Dodgers to the White Sox for right-handed pitcher Eric Surkamp. Both are 27 years old. In 53 2/3 career MLB innings, Surkamp has a 6.20 ERA with 33 strikeouts against 98 baserunners. For Triple-A Charlotte this year, Surkamp has a 2.81 ERA with 30 strikeouts against 28 baserunners in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Carlos Frias’ ongoing adjustments are the subject of Daniel Brim’s piece on Carlos Frias today at Dodgers Digest.
  • The Dodgers’ offensive scoreless-inning streak ended at a record-tying 35 innings with Andre Ethier’s RBI double in the fifth, though they didn’t score an earned run until Joc Pederson’s game-winning homer three innings later.
  • Chris Hatcher, who threw 1/105th of the pitches that Zack Greinke threw, was credited with his first career Dodger victory.
  • Kenley Jansen struck out two in his perfect ninth inning. His K/9 dropped to 21.0.
  • Pederson has struck out four times in his past 39 plate appearances (10.3 percent). Prior to that in 2015, he had struck out 43 times in 127 plate appearances (33.9 percent).

Zero celebration for 1962 scoreless streak

Walter Alston with Duke Snider, whose Dodger career ended in 1962.

Walter Alston with Duke Snider, whose Dodger career ended with the fateful conclusion to the 1962 season.

Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Joc Pederson, CF
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Yasmani Grandal, C
Justin Turner, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Scott Van Slyke, LF
Zack Greinke, P

By Mark Langill

My middle school math teacher is retiring in June after 40 years in the South Pasadena school district. But while Doug Buhler (I can type his first name, but it remains “Mister Buhler” when spoken) made a career out of solving math problems, he never deciphered a string of traumatic zeroes during his childhood.

While rooting for his Dodgers in 1962, Buhler watched the joyride to the National League pennant derailed by a late-season swoon that included a still-standing Los Angeles franchise record for futility – 35 scoreless innings – during the final homestand of the season.

Ahead by three games with six remaining, the Dodgers went 1-5 against the expansion Houston Colt .45s and the St. Louis Cardinals, allowing San Francisco to tie L.A. at the end of 162 games. The Dodgers blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning of the third playoff game, and the Giants’ four-run rally and 6-4 victory ruined the home team’s first season at Dodger Stadium.

The 1962 scoreless streak suddenly became topical because of the 2015 Dodgers’ three consecutive shutout losses at San Francisco and current string of 31 scoreless innings.

But it’s easier to forget about a scoreless streak in May. It if happens in October, one forever wallows in misery.

The 1962 scoreless streak included three consecutive shutout losses – by scores of 2-0 and 1-0 against St. Louis and 8-0 in the first playoff game at San Francisco. The first shutout loss on September 29 began with the Dodgers leaving two runners on base in both the first and second innings, wasted opportunities as St. Louis pitcher Ernie Broglio (pre-Lou Brock trade in 1964) didn’t allow a hit over the final seven innings for the victory.

The Dodgers still had a chance on a Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals, but veteran Curt Simmons pitched a five-hit shutout. The only run off L.A.’s Johnny Podres was an eighth-inning home run by Gene Oliver, who would receive a trip to the World Series in San Francisco, courtesy of a group of grateful Giants fans.

The three-game playoff with San Francisco was considered an extension of the regular season.  Billy Pierce pitched a three-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory at Candlestick Park, and it looked like L.A. was finished when it fell behind 5-0 at home in the sixth inning.

But the Dodgers ended the scoreless streak with a seven-run outburst in the sixth inning, highlighted by Lee Walls’ bases-loaded double off reliever Billy O’Dell. The Giants eventually tied the game at 7-7, but L.A. pushed across the winning run in the ninth on three walks and a sacrifice fly.

Tommy Davis

Tommy Davis

I called one of Doug Buhler’s favorite players from 1962 and asked what he remembered about the final week of the season.

“Why would you call me about that crap?” asked an incredulous yet dutifully cooperative Tommy Davis, the 1962 National League batting champion (.346) whose 230 hits and 153 RBI remain Los Angeles single-season records. The normally good-natured Davis listed a series of bad memories, his voice rising with each recollection. “Houston won one of those games on a home run by Al Spangler. And didn’t Gene Oliver get some sort of trip to San Francisco with his home run against us? I remember we couldn’t do anything right … it was unbelievable.”

The math teacher was more succinct when e-mailing his memories of the 1962 scoreless streak:

“Ugh, awful.”

In case you missed it: Bobblesplash

By Jon Weisman

These bobblehead ads just get better and better — with more special effects! Which mini-Dodger will get the Emmy?

Here are a few quick items that popped up recently …

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu had his surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder Thursday, and Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has the update.

    … The degree of Ryu’s tear (and presumably any accompanying damage) is being portrayed by the club as relatively minor. By comparison to the high rate of return to success for Tommy John patients, the record of pitchers returning from shoulder labrum operations to reclaim their prior form is checkered.

    The injury was once considered career-ending, but recent medical advances have improved the chances.

    Comeback stories range from successes Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling to unfortunate endings like Jason Schmidt, Mark Prior and Mark Mulder. The most recent successful return from the operation is Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda. …

  • On the anniversary of his initial callup to the Major Leagues, shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena was suspended by the Dodgers for the remainder of the 2015 season due to repeated failures to comply with his contract. More from Gurnick here.
  • The Dodgers’ 31-inning scoreless streak is put into historical context by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • Hey, we could use some positive news. Here’s one: Joc Pederson’s swing gets an analytical love note from Ryan Parker of Baseball Prospectus.
  • David Schoenfield of ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot looks at the relative strengths and weakness of the Giants and Dodgers going forward.
  • Bill Shaikin of the Times looks at the fortunes and misfortunes of the Dodgers’ next opponent, San Diego.
  • Here’s a history of the eephus pitch, from Jonah Keri at Grantland.
  • At age 38, twice former Dodger lefty Randy Wolf is pitching for Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, and he tells John Lott of the National Post (via MLB Trade Rumors) that he’s just “enjoying the moment,” regardless of whether he returns to the Majors. “When you retire you can do a lot of things in your life,” Wolf said. “But as far as the baseball aspect, it’s like death. You’re going to be dead a lot longer than you live.”

Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner and a twisted, twisted game

By Jon Weisman

On April 1, 2013, Clayton Kershaw homered in a 4-0 victory over the Giants, in a year he would beat them three times with a 1.38 ERA.

On May 21, 2015, Madison Bumgarner homered in a 4-0 victory over the Dodgers, in a year he has beaten them three times* with a 1.31 ERA.

*OK, one of those was a no-decision in a Giants victory, but allow me my symmetry.

I can’t help but find the most interesting thing about Thursday’s game in San Francisco is not the state of the Dodger offense — please, you can’t be blind to understanding that the freakish scoreless streak will soon become a memory — but just that baseball never ceases to be baseball.

Frankly, that’s true as far as analyzing Thursday’s game goes. Baseball was so baseball yesterday.

Let’s take the ongoing drama “CSI: Kershaw.” For seven innings, Kershaw outpitched Bumgarner. Despite leaving with a 2-0 lead, Bumgarner was in trouble all day, allowing 10 baserunners in six innings, but he got another great catch from outfielder Angel Pagan and was bailed out at one critical point by Alex Guerrero’s remarkable baserunning blunder. The Giants lefty got one out in the seventh and then was done.

Kershaw made one gruesome pitch to Bumgarner in the third, then allowed three batters to reach base in a one-run fourth. The rest of those seven innings, Kershaw allowed two hits and two walks while striking out seven, all in an efficient 91 pitches.

Then, in an eighth inning Bumgarner was long gone from, Kershaw allowed two baserunners whom the Dodger defense and bullpen let score, and once again, instead of going down, Kershaw’s ERA went up.

But we can also say this: For seven innings, Bumgarner outpitched Kershaw. I’m not oblivious to the fact that nothing matters more than keeping zeroes on the scoreboard, and that Bumgarner deserves the lion’s share of credit, not to mention the share of almost every other animal, for the Dodgers’ 0-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position. Bumgarner was the winner Thursday, and deservedly so.

To that apparent contradiction, I offer this reasoning that erstwhile “Simpsons” voice actor Harry Shearer presented to Marc Maron earlier this year.

I have to say about this something that I learned from my six years of analysis, of psychoanalysis. Which is, one mark of adulthood is you can hold two conflicting emotions about the same thing at the same time. Two things can be true at the same time. So it is true that as an actor on an insanely successful TV series, I am by any standards of the human species obscenely overpaid. It is also true that as an actor on one of the most insanely successful television series of all time, I am getting royally screwed. Both things are true.

In other words: baseball.

Dodger minor league report No. 6: The dominant De Leon

Jose De Leon (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Jose De Leon (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Cary Osborne

Friday should mark the Double-A debut of one Jose De Leon. The Tulsa Drillers have listed as De Leon as their starter for their game at Northwest Arkansas, and all we’re waiting for is the 22-year-old right-hander’s promotion becoming official — after a quick and dominant run through what is considered a hitter’s league in the California League.

De Leon’s last outing with High-A Rancho Cucamonga saw him go 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, two walks, an unearned run and eight strikeouts on Sunday.

Since he truly jumped on the radar last season, De Leon has been magnificent. Let’s start in Rancho, where he averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 7.3 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Since the start of 2014, he’s had a 13.9 K/9 and 6.1 K/BB ratio. He’s not only avoiding walks, he’s not giving up many hits. In 114 2/3 innings since the start of 2014, he has given up just 84 hits — just four of them have left the yard.

We got to know De Leon in January. Here’s a reminder.

Now here’s the rest of the show …

(more…)

How Clayton Kershaw became underrated

Los Angeles Dodgers vs Colorado Rockies
By Jon Weisman

Here are the earned runs by innings against Clayton Kershaw over his past six starts:

000 100 xxx (six innings on April 17 vs. Colorado, left for pinch-hitter)
002 000 xxx (six innings on April 22 at San Francisco, left for pinch-hitter)
100 100 0xx (seven innings on April 28 vs. San Francisco, left for pinch-hitter)
000 001 03x (7 1/3 innings on May 4 at Milwaukee)
000 500 xxx (5 2/3 innings on May 10 at Colorado)
000 000 3xx (6 2/3 innings on May 15 vs. Colorado)

In the past 40 innings that he has taken the mound, Kershaw has allowed earned runs in eight of them.

Dodgers at Giants, 12:45 p.m.
Kershaw CCXVIII: The Kershow with David Letterman
Joc Pederson, CF
Kiké Hernandez, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Justin Turner, 3B
Scott Van Slyke, RF
Alex Guerrero, LF
A.J. Ellis, C
Clayton Kershaw, P

For a 26-inning stretch from April 17 through the seventh inning May 4 in Milwaukee, Kershaw had a 2.08 ERA with two walks against 37 strikeouts, and the only thing that could stop him was the Dodgers’ need for a pinch-hitter. And all people did was complain about how ineffective he was.

Since then, he has had three rough innings out of 12 — not his finest cumulative hour. Several analysts online have written “what’s wrong with Kershaw” pieces, and what it seems to come to down to is pitch selection, a slightly less effective slider and — particularly in that lone Coors Field inning, which accounts for 31 percent of the runs Kershaw has allowed over his past 38 2/3 innings — some bleeding rotten fortune.

Here are two things that stick out to me:

  • Opponents have swung at the first pitch in 39 percent of their plate appearances against Kershaw this year, and are hitting .308/.341/.564/.906. Last year, they swung at the first pitch 41 percent of the time, but hit .199/.204/.321/.525.
  • With runners in scoring position, opponents are hitting .347/.396/.469/.866 with a .485 batting average on balls in play. Last year, they hit .190/.233/.355/.588 in RISP situations with a .276 BABIP.

The first problem is certainly fixable; the second might fix itself.

One thing I suspected Kershaw might be having trouble with didn’t turn out to be true. Of his 14 walks (that’s all) in eight starts this year, half have come with the bases empty — but that’s actually a far better percentage than last year, when 22 of his 31 walks came with the bases empty. And yet hitters are only OPSing .654 against him with nobody on. Since April 17, only one player (D.J. LeMahieu) has scored off Kershaw after drawing a bases-empty walk. So the start of innings hasn’t been the problem.

The upshot of all remains that for all that Kershaw might be doing wrong, he is doing so much that is right. Perhaps most importantly, based on his velocity, there is no indication that there’s anything physically amiss. This is still a pitcher who leads Major League Baseball in xFIP (2.15).

Our concerns about Kershaw probably say more about us than they do about him. No one’s been unhappier about his performance than Kershaw himself, but he has managed to do what should have been unthinkable — become an underrated pitcher.

Alex Guerrero looks to keep bouncing back

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers

Half of Alex Guerrero’s 22 hits this season have been for extra bases, including four extra-base hits in May. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Dodgers at Giants, 7:15 p.m.
Joc Pederson, CF
Jimmy Rollins, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Alex Guerrero, LF
Yasmani Grandal, C
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Uribe, 3B
Brett Anderson, P

By Jon Weisman

Alex Guerrero is making his 12th start in May tonight, essentially qualifying him as a regular for the time being. The third baseman-left fielder has made more starts than Justin Turner, Juan Uribe or Scott Van Slyke this month.

Since beginning the season with five homers in his first 22 at-bats through April 26, Guerrero has one homer in his past 45 at-bats. He has a .292 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage in that time, numbers buoyed by his 2-for-4 performance in Tuesday’s 2-0 loss at San Francisco. Guerrero ended a mini-slump in which he had gone 0 for 9.

Guerrero has a .323 batting average on balls in play since April 27, while striking out in 27 percent of his plate appearances.

Remembering ’65: Marichal threatens Drysdale, Drysdale blows bubbles

remembering-65-wide-v1-grass

juan_marichalBy Jon Weisman

Nearly three months before his fateful encounter with Dodger catcher Johnny Roseboro, Giants righty Juan Marichal of the Giants “declared war on Don Drysdale.”

According to Frank Finch of the Times, the challenge came following a “knockdown” pitch Drysdale allegedly threw at Willie Mays in a series-opening game against San Francisco.

After Mays flied out to end the top of the eighth inning of that April 29 game, Drysdale then led off the bottom of the eighth inning and was plunked by Giants reliever Bobby Bolin, but that didn’t satisfy Marichal.

“For five years I’ve been here (in the NL) I’ve seen too much of this,” said Marichal.

“Drysdale has hit Felipe Alou, Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. I’m not saying he tried deliberately to hit them, but he has too good control to be so far off the plate.

“Next time, if he’s pitching against me and he comes close — we’ll see what happens. He’ll get it. And real good, too.

drysdale_pitch_high_frontDrysdale’s repsonse? Finch wrote that the Dodger righty “promised to plug four Giants for every time Marichal hits him.” But Drysdale also felt that Mays’ style of bailing out confused the issue.

“I don’t say Willie is putting on an act when he goes down, it’s just his way of getting out of the way,” Drysdale told Times columnist Sid Ziff. “John Roseboro, for instance, will stand there and move his chin. But in the same situation, Willie will go down. I’d say, he is the hardest in the world to hit.”

Added Ziff: “I wouldn’t say Drysdale was exactly upset by the threat, but when he blew on his bubble gum, the bubbles came out the size of beach balls.”

For what it’s worth, in 46 innings against the Giants in 1965, Drysdale didn’t hit a single batter with a pitch. And after April 29, the Giants didn’t hit Drysdale either.

In 243 career plate appearances against Drysdale, Mays was hit by two pitches.

The Marichal-Roseboro incident would take place August 22, though the players eventually made peace.

Hyun-Jin Ryu will have arthroscopic shoulder surgery — Dodgers will push on

Despite Hyun-Jin Ryu going down with a shoulder injury, the Dodgers have option, including potentially Brandon Beachy (right).

Despite Hyun-Jin Ryu going down with a shoulder injury, the Dodgers have options, including potentially Brandon Beachy (right). (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Cary Osborne

It just never got off the ground for Hyun-Jin Ryu this year. Ryu’s left shoulder injury, classified as an impingement, hasn’t gotten better and today, the Dodgers announced that Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder Thursday, which likely means Ryu’s season is over.

Ryu was shut down in March during Spring Training after just two starts. A subsequent MRI showed no structural damage, and Ryu has been a constant presence at Dodger Stadium. He threw bullpen sessions, but had to be shut down twice more. Last May, Ryu went on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation and missed three weeks. He was less fortunate this time around.

It’s a big hit considering how between 2013 and 2014 Ryu was among baseball’s 20 best starting pitchers in that time frame.

Here are Ryu’s numbers among MLB pitchers in that span:

  • ERA: 3.17 (22nd)
  • FIP: 2.97 (10th)
  • WAR: 7.4 (tied for 18th)

Among NL pitchers, he ranked fourth in fielding independent pitching, eighth in ERA and tied for eighth in WAR.

Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Tuesday that the team was looking to add another arm, but how quickly that might happen remains to be seen.

With Ryu and Brandon McCarthy out, the Dodgers have mainly relied upon Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias, who in seven combined starts (39 2/3 innings) have a 2.04 ERA.

So there are viable in-house options to man that spot for now. The other starters on the 40-man roster are Triple-A Oklahoma City’s Joe Wieland (who started on May 6 in that spot and allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) and Zach Lee. There’s also former Rockies starter Juan Nicasio, who has pitched very well out of the Dodger bullpen (10 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, six baserunners allowed, 15 strikeouts). With how Bolsinger and Frias have pitched, Wieland, Lee and Nicasio figure to stay where they are.

There is no timetable for Brandon Beachy to return to the Majors from a second Tommy John surgery, Don Mattingly told MLB.com’s Earl Bloom, but a comeback this summer is definitely possible. The 28-year-old right-hander, who missed the entire 2014 season, was signed in February for rotation depth for the 2015 season. He threw 30 pitches to Dodger hitters on Saturday.

Winning opponents: It just doesn’t matter

By Jon Weisman

In 2014, the San Francisco Giants went 9-10 against the National League West champion Dodgers, 2-5 against the NL East champion Washington Nationals and 0-3 against the American League champion Kansas City Royals.

Against teams with winning records, the Giants were 27-31 last year.

Then they won the World Series.

That alone should stall any discussion that you need to beat winning teams in the regular season in order to be successful in the playoffs.

Mike Marshall went 5 for 26 with no walks against the Mets in 1988, then popped the champagne in October.

Mike Marshall went 5 for 26 with no walks against the Mets in the 1988 regular season, then popped the champagne in October.

Whispers that this is a problem for the Dodgers have begun — at a ridiculously early point in the season, given that the team has only played seven games against teams with winning records in 2015. Of course, all of those games have been against the Giants with only two victories to show for it, which doesn’t calm anyone’s nerves. But the insignificance of seven games out of 162-plus-October should be clear to anyone who didn’t start watching baseball this year.

Never mind that with one more victory, the San Diego Padres would have a winning record, and suddenly the Dodgers would have 200 percent more victories against winning teams, not to mention the same winning percentage (within .004) against winning teams as the Giants last year. That’s how goofy it is to be worried about this.

If only the Dodgers’ 4-3 record against St. Louis in 2014 had meant something — or for that matter, their two victories out three in Kansas City 11 months ago. Conversely, who that experienced it can forget the Dodgers’ 1-10 record against the New York Mets entering the 1988 playoffs? Or their 11-1 domination of the Phillies before the ill-fated 1983 postseason?

Last year, the Dodgers lost six of their first eight games to the Giants, then won eight of their last 11. This proved less useful than a Magic 8 Ball for predicting the future.

There’s nothing like getting shut out in San Francisco to make you want to, I don’t know, give up baseball entirely. But right now, the Dodgers’ only goals are to have the most wins they can possibly have over the next 124 games — against anybody — and have the best possible squad to ride the unstable roller coaster of October. So far, they’re well on their way.

Footnote: 88 years ago today, the 1927 Yankees scored one run against the Indians and lost. Cleveland would finish 66-87 that year. Sometimes, it’s just not your day.

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