The news just before Friday night’s game that we had just traded Baez and Aybar to the Braves for infielder Wilson Betemit definitely sparked the team, as we broke out of our slump to clobber the Nationals. After a great day, we came back on Saturday for more of the same, and another big win for the blue. The way we had been going, those 4 runs in the first 2 innings allowed by Lowe would have surley meant a loss, but our offense has come alive, and we may be back in it.
Its amazing how much a trade like that can spark a lineup. A trade that benefits us pretty much sends a message to the players from management "Look, we aren’t giving up on you guys and we still have confidence that you can win, we’re going to try to help you out" The players left who were down on themselves because of the losing streak, now have a new outlook, and think that maybe we have a chance and play with a spark.
As for the trade itself, Wilson Betemit is a very nice acquisition for the Dodgers to make. Betemit will fill a hole the Dodgers have had all season since the possible career ending injury to Mueller, for a good all around 3B. Ideally, you would like a 3B who fields well, is a good hitter and has some power. Betemit is a very good fielder, he can hit for average and has some power as well. We have had many people try to fill that role, but didn’t really have a 3B. Aybar, while a good hitter (who should develop some power at some point) is a really bad fielder and can be a defensive liability. Izzy, while a great fielder, cant hit, and is really ****, not a 3B. Ramon Martinez was a decent fielder, could hit for average, but no power and really wasnt an everyday player, more of a utility man/spot starter. The only person who really fit the profile would be Saenz, who is a decent fielder, good average, good power, but he’s not an everyday player, he just cant handle playing everyday, he’s better as a pinch hitter/spot starter, and I feel more comfortable with him defensively at 1B than 3B. Overall, Betemit is a young player who can fill that spot for us for a long time and be a good producer for us.
As for the players who will be leaving us, I would like to wish them the best of luck in Atlanta. Aybar, like I said, is a very good hitter who should develop some power, as he has hit with power in the minors, he just is not good defensively. That is something that he may eventually improve on, but he is a very good hitter, left handed. When he bats righty thats a different story, but that would only be when he faces LHPs. As for Baez, he needed a change of scenery and we all knew he would not resign with us in the offseason, as he really wants to become a closer and he obviously wouldn’t get the chance here. He started the season as a very good closer, and then lost his confidence after letting up a 5 run lead in the 9th against San Diego (entered with bases loaded with no out, thanks to Lance Carter) and never was the same. I hope for his sake, that he can put all this behind him and start over and do well in Atlanta.
Everytime Cruz gets a start, its not uncommon to hear rumbling in the community of Dodger fans about why Grady would start Cruz when he has trouble hitting right handed pitching and, most of the time, he is facing right handed pitching (as there are a lot more right handed pitchers than lefties). Over his career, as well as this season, Cruz has shown that he is a very good hitter when it comes to facing LHPs. but when it comes to a RHP, he just cant hit. This season alone he is batting .318 against LHPs and .194 against RHPs. Cruz has good patience at the plate, draws his share of walks, is a very good fielder, a former gold glove, but when it comes to facing RHPs, this season he is below the famed Mendoza line, which essentially is the point at which its hard to justify having a player in the lineup, regardless of how good they may be defensively or any other things they may bring to the table. One would think if there is anything he could do to improve.
I have thought about a few different things that I thought could be the problem. While some hitters you could just simply say, he cant hit RHPs, Cruz is a switch hitter so that adds an extra variable to the equation. Its generally thought of that lefty/lefty and righty/righty matchups benefit the pitcher, so switch hitters always bat the opposite of the pitchers hand, ie righty/lefty. So, the question comes up, is the problem that Cruz can not hir RHPs, or is the problem that Cruz can not hit left handed. To get an idea I analyzed Cruz’s stats from 2003-2005 to see what I could figure out. Cruz batted .291 (109/374) vs LHPs and he batted .232 (251/1080) vs RHPs, as we would expect. As a right handed hitter Cruz hit .291 (111/381) and as a left handed hitter he hit .232 (249/1073). Its no surprise that Cruz’s average was the same as a right handed batter as it was vs LHPs and vice versa, but what you can tell is that there is a discrepency in the hits and at bats. That discrepency accounts for the amount of times that Cruz didn’t bat the traditional left handed vs a RHP. In those 3 years there were 7 times that he chose to hit right handed against a RHP, and he was successful 2 times. 2/7 equals a .285 batting average. While it is a small sample, one would think that it could help to prove what the problem is, as if Cruz really was that bad as a left handed batter that he would hit a RHP the same as he normally hits LHPs when batting left handed, and if the problem is that Cruz really just cant hit RHPs, that his numbers would mirror his normal vs RHPs average regardless what hand he is using to bat. My findings suggest, that his .285 average is very close to his normal average of .291 as a right handed hitter, suggesting that its not a problem hitting against RHPs, its just that he has no business switch hitting as he cant hit the ball left handed.
Cruz supporters may argue that he has much more power left handed, but thats simply a product of having more at bats left handed to be able to hit more home runs. Cruz throws right handed, so he is a natural righty. In that 3 year period he hit about 2.5 times more home runs lefty, but also had about 3.5 times the at bats. This season he has hit 2 each lefty and righty, he also has 8 doubles each, but about 2.5 times the at bats left handed. I know the chances of Cruz abandoning the switch hitting thing are probably very slim, but Jose, you are a very good player, you’re an excellent fielder, but you just cant hit left handed, and this year its killing us when you try.
Finally, I have noticed that, in about the same amount of at bats (110 vs 111) Cruz is batting .309 at home and .153 on the road. I don’t know if its coincidence or if Cruz really likes it that much when hes in front of his own fans as opposed to the times he’s living out of the hotel, but this is another substantial difference. If you combine the 2 stats, and look at times he is home and batting right handed, Cruz is batting .448. These are some amazing numbers if you think about it. I just hope one day he decides to try it, and maybe can produce the way we need him to.
Tonight we start a 3 game set with the Nationals that will close out one of the worst months in recent history for the Dodgers, and hopefully we can bounce back and break out of our losing streak. We start out the series with one of our few bright spots, rookie Chad Billingsley taking the hill against Tony Armas. While Billingsley did give up 5 earned runs in 5 innings his last start against the Cards, that was largely due to one bad inning, and his 2 previous starts since the all star break, he didnt allow a run. He has looked impressive since the break, and I would look for him to improve on that, facing a lineup in which he doesn’t have to worry about the ever dangerous Albert Pujols, which he did in 2 of his last 3 starts. Also, against tonight’s starter Tony Armas, we have a few hitters who have had lifetime success against him, Rafael Furcal (.333 in 36 ABs) and Cesar Izturis (.500 in 10 ABs).
We all know that we have a better team then we’ve been showing as of late. We can just hope that something has got to give. The Nationals really don’t have a good record, yet they have a major league high 6 game win streak now, and we aren’t really as bad as we’ve been playing, and we have a major league high 8 game losing streak. Something has to give, and hopefully its our time to break out of this slump. The season isnt over yet, and coming through by winning this series could help us make up some of that ground we lost.
Tuesday was a rather impressive night for some of our kids in Vegas as they rolled to a 20-8 victory over the Omaha Royals. The most impreassive of them all was Matt Kemp who was 4 for 5 with 3 doubles, 4 RBI and 2 steals. This should be good news to all Dodger fans, as Kemp quickly became a Dodger favorite when he was called up and immediately started to impress. He did start to slow down in LA as the pitchers started to figure him out and exploit his weaknesses, but the whole idea of bringing him up was to see what his weaknesses would be so he could work on those in Vegas, and he isn’t disappointing down there with a .349 average in 10 games.
Another notable performance from that night was from 1B prospect James Loney, who was 3 for 5 with 2 RBI. Loney, who many consider our 1B of the future, was actually starting in left field. Many people who have been concerned that his progress would be blocked by the exceptional play of Nomar Garciaparra, and who think there wouldn’t be room for both in LA, this could serve as a way that they could both play together. While we do seem to have a lot of outfield help with young players, getting Loney some experience in left could be a sign that Ned plans to resign Nomar in the offseason and still wants to give Loney a chance. That could be something to look into when offseason negotiations begin.