Think Blue

Obsessing over the Dodgers' minor league system so you don't have to.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Domo Arigato, Mr Kuroda

The Dodgers have finalized a deal with free agent RHP Hiroki Kuroda, signing him for 3 years for a total of $35.3 million, according to the team's website. Kuroda, who will turn 33 in February, is coming off his 11th season with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in which he posted a 12-8 record with an ERA of 3.56.

How does he compare to the free agent pitchers that the states has to offer and what should Dodger fans expect from him? I'll look at his stats, as well as his scouting report and video, to try to determine what the Dodgers and their fans can look forward to over the next three years.


Kuroda attacks hitters with a fastball that sits in the 90-91 mph range that he can spot to both sides of the plate, along with a mid 80s forkball, a changeup and a shuuto (a slider that breaks backwards). His delivery is similar to Daisuke Matsuzaka's, though he doesn't have a windup and it's less exaggerated. He pitches from a high 3/4 angle that allows Hiroki to generate a good downhill plane on his pitches which should result in a good amount of groundballs. His control is excellent, as he's walked 445 batters in 1700 career innings.


Kuroda's age works against him, as he'll be 35 at the end of his contract. He's been called a power pitcher in some scouting reports, but he's more of a finesse/control guy and profiles as a #4 starter. To keep lefties off balance, it would serve Hiroki well to develop a slider or cutter that he can work in on their hands. He's not a great strikeout pitcher, as his career 6.65 K/9 would indicate, so he'll depend on his defense to be effective. He's also coming off elbow surgery to remove bone chips and he's pitched 200 innings just twice in his career.


Kuroda helps to shore up the rotation and the Dodgers don't have to sacrifice a draft pick to sign him. While his ceiling isn't as high as Matsuzaka's, he should serve as a quality #4 and provide much needed depth. Hiroki's HR totals in Japan were inflated due to a hitter-friendly home park, so it shouldn't be a problem long term. All in all, it's a good signing that can allow Ned Colletti to concentrate on filling the bench and the bullpen.


Here is video of Kuroda pitching in the NPB All Star Game this past season:

This clip is 5 years old, in which Kuroda faces Hideki Matsui:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Joe McDonnell interviews Colletti

It started off fine, with Colletti discussing the Jones signing and the team's overall defense. He also reiterated his stance of not wanting to deal multiple players for one and praised his young players. But McDonnell forgets about subtlety and asks Colletti how he responds to criticism of the Pierre deal.

Ned Colletti: "Well, I have more information than anybody else has."

Wow, nice way to start off the explanation. Apparently he didn't have the 411 on Pierre's throwing arm. And it's not how much information you have, it's how you use it. Placing hits and steals over OBP and SLG isn't the best way to evaluate players.

NC: "We went after players for the right reasons."

What's more important than signing a guy for the right reasons is signing a guy because you believe he can contribute to the team. Saying "we needed a centerfielder" isn't an excuse for acquiring Pierre, since the expectations of his production were pretty low.

McDonnell also mentioned Jason Schmidt and Colletti defended the deal by saying no one could have predicted Schmidt's injury. I find it hard to believe the team did its due diligence and missed an ailment that serious, as it couldn't have all happened between the time he signed and the start of the season. Regardless, I was one who liked the signing and though it brought a good starter to the team. I was wrong. Now, back to Pierre.

NC: "The Juan Pierre piece is different for me. I don't think you can lay the...lack of achievement by the '07 Dodgers at the feet of Juan Pierre."

Ah, but we've heard this one before. In my last entry, I quoted Ned as saying:

NC: "The way the 2007 Dodgers performed is not Juan Pierre's fault."

Colletti seems to be under the impression (delusion) that people are blaming Pierre for the team's performance. That's simply not the case. I haven't seen one person attribute the club's performance to any Dodger player, including Pierre. The late season collapse was facilitated through terrible pitching.

But the point here isn't that Pierre hurt the team. The point is Pierre didn't help the team as much as many people would have liked.

NC: "I think Juan Pierre is a player who is a complimentary player. He's not a franchise player."

Wow, we finally agree on something about Pierre. But why, oh why, would you sign a complimentary player to a 5 year deal?

NC: "What he does, and we all know who he is, we all know the strengths and the weaknesses of the player. One thing that you can't deny about him is that he did what we thought he would do. That he would play every day, that he would get close to 200 hits and he'd steal sixty-something bases. That's exactly what he did."

Yes Ned, we know who he is. He was the leadoff man who doesn't get on base enough, the center fielder that allows extra bases because of his arm and now, he'll be the left fielder with no power. Again, placing these arbitrary values on hit and stolen base totals is pointless.

NC: "When you look at last year's team and you got Furcal who was hurt all year, and we really lacked production in the middle three in our lineup. And Juan Pierre sits second in the lineup, and Raffy's hurt and you got three to follow him that didn't have great years by and large, suddenly it's Juan Pierre's fault. Juan Pierre's this, Juan Pierre's that."

Again, can anyone point me in the direction of someone who has made this argument? No one's blaming Pierre for Furcal's injury (that would be Repko). No one's blaming Pierre for the middle of the lineup, though a lot of the blame lies on Ned's and Grady Little's shoulders for that. The Dodgers ranked 11th in the NL after getting a .796 OPS from their #3 hitters last season, mainly due to Nomar's 260 at bats there (and his .650 OPS); the Dodgers ranked 7th in the NL with an .871 OPS from their cleanup guys, with Kent getting 491 of the 631 at bats there (and posting an .878 OPS); and the Dodgers ranked 11th in the NL with a .748 OPS from their #5 hitters, with Gonzo getting about half the AB's and posting a .777 OPS. Hopefully Loney will bat #3 and I'm guessing Andruw will bat #5, so that ought to produce more runs.

NC: "Well you know what? On a different team, on a team like we hope to have this year, Juan Pierre's value I think is accentuated. Especially moving to left field. And I think his ability to get on base, steal bases, is a plus."

So not only is Colletti now making the argument that Pierre's move to LF is a good thing, he's also lauding his ability to get on base. I think my head's going to explode.

Now Colletti talks about how there's a realistic shot of having five Dodgers with 20 or more HR, and that's valid. Considering the fact that the Dodgers ranked 15th in the NL in HR last year, only besting the Washington Nationals, and only one Dodger hit 20 HR last year (Kent), the Dodgers should expect more power. Jones, Kemp, Loney, Kent and Martin are all capable and, if all are given appropriate playing time, should improve the offense. But back to Pierre.

NC: "When Juan Pierre is expected to be a key player on that team and one of the focal points on the team, because of Furcal being hurt and because of the middle three in the lineup not having great years, I think it stands out and it exposes him for somebody who he's not. I think in a different situation, which we hope to have here, I think he's got a totally different relationship to how the team plays and what he can bring to it."

I really don't understand this argument. Because Furcal and the middle three will be better, Pierre's role is somehow different? See, it's not that Colletti predicts Pierre will put up better numbers. It's Ned predicts other players on the team will put up better numbers and thus draw the focus off Pierre. That should tell you something about Pierre's value.

Anyways, I'll be back with any more signings. Still haven't seen anything concrete about Hiroki Kuroda, though I'm guessing he'll make his final decision sometime this weekend.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Dodgers finally made their move for a big bat, signing Andruw Jones to a 2 year deal worth $36.2 million. Jones, who will turn 31 next April, is coming off his worst offensive season since he broke into the bigs in 1996. However, he won his 10th Gold Glove this year and is still considered one of the premiere defenders in the game. I'll evaluate the signing and how it influences the team.

The Good

To start, the length of the contract is great. I was hoping he'd go for a one year deal but two years is more than acceptable. The Dodgers will have Jones in his age 31 and 32 seasons, the tail end of his "peak" years. I much prefer signing Jones until he's 32 than signing Torii Hunter until he's 37.

This also improves the team's outfield defense. Andruw topped Bill James' plus/minus list of the best defensive centerfielders over the past 3 seasons. The Hardball Times ranked Jones first in Revised Zone Rating and his 80 balls fielded outside of his defensive zone was best among NL outfielders. His arm is another big improvement, as Dodger pitchers will be less concerned with baserunners testing Jones than they were with Juan Pierre.

And, as I mentioned before, Jones provides the big bat in the middle of the order that the Dodgers have been trying to replace since Adrian Beltre's walk year in 2004. Jones should be good for 30-40 HR each of the next two seasons, assuming he's suffering no ill effects from his apparent elbow injury from 2007. Looking at his numbers from 2007 and his 51 HR season in 2005, there are few differences. His BABIP was nearly identical (.242 vs .240) and his line drive percentage was actually higher (17.2% vs 16%). The biggest difference was a huge drop in his Homeruns per flyball, which went from 25.5% in 2005 to 13.3% in 2007. This could be a result of him not being able to fully extend his left arm because of the aforementioned elbow injury.

Assuming he's physically sound, Andruw should be a big piece in the Dodgers' offense over the next two seasons.

The Bad

Now, going back to that supposed elbow injury, what if it didn't impact his season? What if he just regressed? A career .263 hitter with a .342 OBP isn't exactly tearing the cover off the ball. He posts abysmally low BABIPs every year, mainly due to his flyball approach. And he struck out 100 times each of the past 11 seasons. Unless he gets his HR/FB back up to about 20% and stops trying to uppercut everything, the Dodgers could be looking at a .750 OPS from their supposed savior.

Also, the injuries have to be a concern. Not only was the secret elbow injury hampering him last year, but he was also dealing with shoulder and knee problems in the latter part of the season. He's not getting any younger and really needs to concentrate on staying in shape as he ages.

But the biggest impact this signing could have is on one of the other outfielders. Colletti is still looking at pitchers and assuming Hiroki Kuroda signs with the Mariners, the best of the rest would have to be acquired through trade. Now, Colletti has apparently turned down numerous offers for Kemp and stated that he likes having the group of Jones, Pierre, Kemp and Ethier. But Colletti could also feel that acquiring Jones would lessen the blow of having to trade Kemp for a starting pitcher. It also means that Juan Pierre's move to left field is all but assured and his offensive deficiencies will be more glaring in a corner. The best move that could follow Jones' signing is Pierre being dealt, though I seriously doubt that will happen.

The Ugly

With the signing of Andruw Jones, Ned Colletti left Juan Pierre a voicemail telling Pierre of Jones' acquisition and that Jones, not Pierre, will be playing centerfield next season. However, Colletti sees this as anything but an admission that the Pierre signing was a mistake. He defended the (now) leftfielder by saying:

"I don't regret it."

Which would have been fine by me. But then Ned followed it with a vigorous defensive outpouring.

"You can't look back on what you do like that. It's not fair to anything."

People have to look back on what they've done to identify mistakes and make sure not to repeat them. This first sentence doesn't make me think that Ned is simply posturing to try to keep Pierre's value up in hopes of trading him. It makes me think that Ned believes the Pierre signing was a good thing. And that's scary.

"You tell me what you would do when we were sitting there with one outfielder, Andre Ethier, who had played four months of big league baseball and no other outfielder."

Outbidding Brian Sabean generally isn't the best way to acquire players. Signing a guy like Pierre to a 5 year contract, when you could have gotten similar production from a guy making the league minimum, isn't justifiable.

"It's easy to go back and re-write history. I don't have the opportunity to go back and re-write history nor do I feel I need to. It is what it is, and we did what we had to do."

No one's re-writing history. Many people on the inside AND on the outside knew what Pierre was before he was signed. Many people complained about the signing when it happened. And saying that the Dodgers "had to" sign Pierre shows Colletti's lack of accountability.

"We signed a player that's a great guy and a guy that comes to play every day and a great influence throughout the clubhouse. You know what you’re getting. 195 hits, 60-something stolen bases."

I have no doubt that Pierre is a great guy and people like him, but that shouldn't be a reason to give him a long term contract. It's also pretty funny that Colletti mentions Pierre's influence in the clubhouse with all the problems that occurred in there last season. And it's convenient that Colletti says he knows what he's getting, because prior to the season he was saying he'd expect 200 hits out of Pierre. Now he shaves that number to 195 because Pierre actually collected 196 in 2007.

"The way the 2007 Dodgers performed is not Juan Pierre's fault."

No, but the way the 2007 Juan Pierre performed is Juan Pierre's fault. Assuming someone was actually making that argument, which no one was, Pierre didn't exactly set the world on fire for the first 4 months of the season. And as if he hadn't said enough, Colletti added this:

"Asked if it was the salary that was driving up expectations about Pierre, Colletti said, "Check it out on some blog, I don't know." Colletti later claimed never to have read a single blog entry in his lifetime."

Nice to see Ned joining the stable of "legitimate" sportswriters taking cheap shots at bloggers. Didn't Colletti start his Baseball career in Public Relations?

Overall, the Jones signing seems like a good deal and I expect him to contribute over the next few years. But I'm disappointed with how Colletti handled the questions about Pierre and though he could have done a much better job had he stuck to "I don't regret it."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Baseball America's Top 10 Dodger Prospects

The time has finally come. posted their Top 10 Prospect list for the Dodgers and there were some surprises. One of them, however, was not who was at #1.

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP (My pick - Clayton Kershaw)

No explanation needed.

2. Andy LaRoche, 3B (My pick - Andy LaRoche)

Again, not a surprise. With the Marlins' dealing Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, LaRoche looks just a bit more secure in contending for a starting job next spring. However, a Scott Rolen trade rumor has surfaced (via Ken Rosenthal) and could complicate things.

3. Chin Lung Hu, SS (My pick - James McDonald)

And here's where our lists diverge. It's nice to see Hu getting props, since he was snubbed by's projection-heavy list. The scouting report mentions that Hu came to camp last season weighing 10 lbs heavier than the previous year, and he hit a career best 16 HR in 2007. Can't blame Mark Sweeney for that.

4. Scott Elbert, LHP (My pick - Chin Lung Hu)

Not a huge difference in position here. Elbert was reportedly throwing at 75 percent from 70 feet on flat ground last month. So it seems that he's progressing well in his rehab and should be ready for game action in March.

5. Blake DeWitt, 3B (My pick - Scott Elbert)

Whoomp, there it is. BA's love affair with Blake DeWitt strikes again. DeWitt ranked 15th on my list, mainly due to the fact that he really doesn't have great tools. His "pretty swing" has generated a career minor league line of .279/.332/.443, which won't get it done at the hot corner (where he's fringy with the glove). And his supporters have the gall to compare his development to that of James Loney, who also didn't consistently hit for power in the minors. James Loney is about 4 inches taller and 20 lbs heavier than DeWitt, by the way. So I guess the scouts are going to keep drooling over his swing while ignoring the fact that he's not doing much with it.

6. Chris Withrow, RHP (My pick - Josh Bell)

I'm not sure what surprised me more: Withrow's high ranking or Bell's exclusion. often favors pedigree over production and Withrow has the 20th overall pick tag on his back. He did manage to touch 98mph in a playoff start for the GCL, which was exciting, but getting more consistently into the mid 90s would be better. As for Bell, I'd rather have him 5th than DeWitt.

7. James McDonald, RHP (My pick - Andrew Lambo)

McDonald ranking below Withrow is pretty shocking. Again, pedigree comes into play, but J Mac dominated Double A batters for the better part of two months and Withrow has pitched about 10 innings of pro ball. Also, Lambo was left ouf ot the Top 10. Alan Mathews mentioned that Lambo was one of the best hitters in Instructional League and he'll get a huge test with an assignment to Low A Great Lakes next spring.

8. Jon Meloan, RHP (My pick - Ivan De Jesus Jr)

Another close one, as I had Meloan at the bottom of my Top 10. I generally don't like ranking relievers this high and BA's methodology in doing so can sometimes seem a little arbitrary, but the slot is warranted. Again, De Jesus missed the Top 10, though he was awarded as having the Best Strike Zone Judgement in the Dodgers' system. That award probably should have gone to LaRoche, but Ivan certainly does know how to draw a walk.

9. Delwyn Young, OF (My pick - Delwyn Young)

On the nosie! I liked what I saw from DY in his brief stint with the Dodgers in September and think he could outproduce Andre Ethier offensively next season. However, barring an injury, he's likely going to see limited action and is probably going to be traded.

10. Pedro Baez, 3B (My pick - Jon Meloan)

Baez was a guy who barely missed my Top 10 (he was #11) and he's a kid I'm really excited about. Given the appropriate instruction and some luck, he could be what Adrian Beltre should have been: a consistent middle of the order bat with a golden glove. However, he has a long way to go and could start next season in extended spring training with Austin Gallagher occupying third base in Great Lakes.

Well, that about does it. It will be interesting to see what names surface in the Top 30 next February. Be sure to check back if/when the Dodgers make a move, as I'll be sure to give my input on any transactions.