25 June 2007

Snakes Preview

by Joshua Worley

I'm going right into player summaries this time, with sections on the bullpen and prognoses for the series and the Snake season to come at the end.

Eric James Byrnes -- LF/RF

age: 31
bats: right

0.317 -- 0.366 -- 0.516

Byrnes has been the offensive MVP of the Snakes in the first three sevenths of the season. Tracy has slightly better numbers, but in far fewer games played. Byrnes is a fast, exciting player, with 5 triples and 14 stolen bases. He has dangerous power too, with 12 home runs.

Byrnes walks just enough to be an effective hitter, but he's not up there looking for free passes to first base. As he's heated up in May and June his walks have actually declined. I think Dodger pitchers should never look to just get a first pitch strike over to him. He's hitting 0.435 off first pitches he swings at with 5 of his 12 home runs. In general, he seems to hit worse the deeper he gets into a count, even if he's ahead in the count. In all at bats in which he sees a 2-1 count at some point, he's hitting just 0.236. If the Dodgers are really stingy with the strike zone when he bats they'll limit his hitting. The risk of walking him is there but not overwhelming. And he does strike out a lot, with 48 so far, on a pace for more than 100 on the year.

Orlando Thill Hudson -- 2B

age: 29
bats: switch

0.298 -- 0.383 -- 0.469

The last time these teams played, Hudson was the Snakes best offensive player on the strength of his 0.340 batting average. At the time I was skeptical that this average would last, and it hasn't. But since then he has increased his walks, so that he's still getting on base at a very high rate.

Hudson doesn't swing at the first pitch as often as Byrnes, and when he does swing he doesn't do anything particularly good. Since Hudson is a danger to walk and he does hit better when ahead in the count, it's really imperative to get the first pitch strike over on him. His on base percentage is 0.473 after a 1-0 count, and 0.302 after 0-1. In comparison, Byrnes only has a 31 point spread between his at bats after these counts.

Chad Austin Tracy -- 3B/1B

age: 27
bats: left

0.289 -- 0.380 -- 0.521

Location. Keep the ball down on Tracy, and you have a chance to limit him. Yeah, he's a lefty, but he still likes the ball up.

Tracy has been injured a lot this year, and his health the rest of the year may determine how well the Snakes do. Or it may not. I mean, the Snakes were 15-6 while he was out with his injury in late May and early June. I doubt that really means anything, but man it's weird. The reason that the Snakes really didn't miss Tracy much was Mark Reynolds played out of his skull.

But long term, the Snakes are better off with Tracy in the lineup. The rest of their hitters come with warnings. Hudson and Byrnes are over-performing a bit. The quartet of promising youngsters are, well, young, and three of them are struggling to show more than just flashes of their great promise. Tracy is, ultimately, the foundation of their offense.

Mark Andrew Reynolds -- 3B

age: 23
bats: right

0.282 -- 0.348 -- 0.513

How good a fill-in for Tracy was Reynolds? Good enough so that the Snakes are occasionally playing Tracy at first base to get Reynolds in at third base. This means that Reynolds is taking some playing time away from Conor Jackson, which is probably a mistake.

The league has adjusted to Reynolds. His May OPS was 1.299; his June OPS is 0.483. He has no home runs or multi-hit games in June. He's been striking out about a third of the time in June. I hope the Dodgers are aware of the league's adjustments and take advantage of them. I hope the Snakes put Reynolds in the lineup in place of Tracy or Jackson. I hope I don't go on to rue these words.

Conor Sevin Jackson -- 1B

age: 25
bats: right

0.274 -- 0.376 -- 0.428

This isn't a great line from your first baseman. Nevertheless it represents the one success the Snakes have so far from their quartet of big-time prospects.

This is another batter against whom you really want to get that first pitch strike. The difference between starting Jackson off 1-0 and 0-1 is an OBP of 0.485 and 0.265. He only has 5 home runs, so the Dodgers shouldn't be too afraid of him. Penny and Lowe should be fine against him. Wolf maybe not so much, with his wildness. Watch for how Billingsley pitches him. If he falls behind hitters like Jackson and Hudson, it's probably going to be the sign of a long day for Chad.

I couldn't find Conor's middle name last time I previewed the Snakes. I'm glad I could dig it up this time. I'm a fan of middle names that sound like numbers. It's just too bad Jackson's uniform number isn't 7.

Christopher Brandon Young -- CF

age: 23
bats: right

0.246 -- 0.286 -- 0.432

Young, Drew, and Quentin are all plagued by high strikeout totals and line drive rates around 16%. All three of these highly touted prospects are struggling in the two basic aspects of hitting: making contact, and making that contact solidly. All three are saved by complete disaster by a secondary skill, but all are genuinely struggling, and keeping the Snakes offense from really taking off.

In Young's case, his saving skill is hitting home runs. But he's making a lot of outs just to hit 10 home runs. I think that giving up a home run to Young should be considered morally equivalent to giving up a home run to a regular power hitter on a 0-2 count. He's just not a disciplined, fundamentally sound hitter. You don't want to just go after him, challenge him. Make him go after your stuff. Young actually has a higher OBP after 0-1 than after 1-0! He's only gone on to walk 3 of 11 times after seeing a 3-0 count. He's a mess of a hitter with some power.

Carlos Jose Quentin -- RF

age: 24
bats: right

0.213 -- 0.302 -- 0.365

Quentin's secondary skill that saves him from being a total rookie bust are his walks. He also hits a few doubles and the odd home run to keep his slugging percentage out of Juan Pierre-land.

But these middling numbers aren't going to do the Dodgers much good in this series, because Carlos has some Ervin Santana-esque home-road splits. At home, his OPS is 0.910. He's Chad Tracy at home. On the road, his OPS is 0.396. He's Norihiro Nakamura on the road.

These splits will surely admit that they come from small sample sizes, but still! He sure looks like a dangerous hitter at home. His splits are so extreme that the writers at Arizona's official website have taken notice of it. Here's a quote about it from the splitty man himself: "I can't concentrate if there isn't a swimming pool in the outfield." Okay, he didn't really say that, but all his real quotes about it were really boring variations of yes, I know about it, I don't know why it's happening, and I need to do better.

Manager Melvin takes the boring "small sample size" view: "It's just one of those things that getting to the halfway point may be more coincidental than anything else." Fie on that! I say it's because Quentin doesn't have the will of the warrior on the road. Or maybe it's really the swimming pool. I'd like to see how he plays in Tampa with that cow-ray tank.

Stephen Oris Drew -- SS

age: 24
bats: left

0.237 -- 0.301 -- 0.346

His brother isn't played much better than him, actually. How come JD's middle name was something normal like Jonathan and Stephen got stuck with Oris?

Like Quentin, Drew grabs enough walks and doubles and odd homers to keep from being a complete disaster. Unlike Quentin, Drew has no interesting splits to investigate. This summary is over!

Octavio Augie Ojeda -- SS

age: 32
bats: switch

0.429 -- 0.529 -- 0.643

He goes by Augie instead of Octavio. I think he made the right call.

His line comes in 17 PA in 6 games, so no need to get too worried about him. Before his call-up a week and a half ago to replace the demoted Callaspo, his last stint in the big leagues was in 2004. He's the new utility infielder for the Snakes.

Christopher Ryan Snyder -- C

age: 26
bats: right

0.218 -- 0.299 -- 0.367

Miguel Angel Montero -- C

age: 23
bats: left

0.226 -- 0.292 -- 0.368

The two catchers look pretty similar in offense, don't they? I sure hope Russ Martin can handily outperform this duo in the series. If he doesn't then it will be a bad sign for the Dodgers.

Anthony Christopher Clark -- 1B

age: 35
bats: switch

0.242 -- 0.295 -- 0.516

He's like Young, except a little better at hitting home runs right now. He doesn't hit much as a right-handed batter. He may get a start against Penny, Lowe, or Billingsley, but there is a logjam at first with Jackson and Tracy ( to make room for Reynolds to get some starts ).

Scott Alexanader Hairston -- LF

age: 27
bats: right

0.225 -- 0.315 -- 0.372

It's a testament to how disappointing Young and Quentin have been that that it makes sense that Hairston has played in 54 games. Hairston is the canary in the mine. As long as he's playing semi-regularly, it's a sign the Snake offense hasn't reached division-winning level yet.

Micah Burton Owings -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.06 -- 64.1 -- 45 -- 24 -- 5

He pitches better at home than on the road, and as he's a decent pitcher anyway the Dodgers can't count on Owings to be a push-over. Lefties do very well against him, so here's a thought: since Loney is a better hitter than Nomar anyway, and Loney is left-handed and Nomar is right-handed, why not start Loney tonight? Just a wacky idea, I know.

Owings is usually a 5 or 6 inning pitcher, though he did have a complete game gem against Houston at home. But more likely than not the bullpen will play a large role in his start tonight.

Edgar Gerardo Gonzalez -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.35 -- 51.2 -- 41 -- 12 -- 10

He earned a starting rotation spot after a good spring, then moved into the 'pen in May to make room for Randy Johnson. Since then he's made a few spot starts. His ERA as a starter is 3.79, so he's not necessarily as easy mark for the Dodgers. But at home his ERA is 6.16, so maybe he really should be an easy mark Tuesday night. He's allowed 8 home runs at home, and left-handed hitters are hitting well against him. Say, here's a thought: why not start Loney at first instead of Nomar against Gonzalez? I know, another wacky idea.

He's not likely to go more than five innings, so again the Snakes 'pen will play a large role in the game.

One note: Randy Johnson is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday. Now it is official that the Big Unit won't be making a start Tuesday, so Gonzalez is almost certain to get the start here, though manager Melvin hasn't yet made that official.

Brandon Tyler Webb -- P

age: 28
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.24 -- 111.0 -- 97 -- 37 -- 8

By the time the Dodgers have played the first three games of the series, they will have faced three pitchers against whom it makes no sense to start Garciaparra ahead of Loney. I wonder how many times Loney will actually start in that stretch, though?

The Dodgers will need all the offense they can get against Webb. He's still a ground ball machine. Will Pierre still find a way to pop up three times against him?

The Dodgers counter Webb with Lowe. I'm really looking forward to this matchup. Webb has regularly pitched deep into games, usually going at least 7 innings, so the Snakes bullpen may get a much needed rest Wednesday night.

Eisler Livan Hernandez -- P

age: 32
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.68 -- 100.0 -- 50 -- 48 -- 12

Livan is beginning to pay for his low strikeout rate and his near parity in strikeouts to walks. He's given up 17 runs in his last 3 starts. The Dodgers were flummoxed by him in his six inning, one run outing against them on Mayday, though he did take the loss in that game.

Here is yet another starter against whom Loney should get the call. The only starter I would even consider playing Nomar over Loney against is Randy Johnson, who isn't scheduled to start at the moment. However, that could change. Bob Melvin has said that Johnson might get the start Thursday instead of Livan.

Randall David Johnson -- P

age: 43
throws: hard, left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
3.52 -- 53.2 -- 70 -- 11 -- 6

I sure hope he doesn't pitch against the Dodgers on Thursday. Except that it would be cool to see him. Just not to see him dominate the Dodgers. Randy still has it, clearly, judging by the strike outs and walks. Though he might struggle in his first start off the DL, or be limited in how deep into the game he can pitch.

The Snakes need him healthy for the rest of the year if they hope to maintain first place. The rotation is too thin without him. Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez are coming back to earth after good starts, and Owings and Gonzalez are ideally the sorts of five-inning pitchers who fight for the last spot in the rotation. If Randy is hurt they are instead the three and four starters.


The Snake 'pen has a collective ERA of 3.66, and a record of 15-8. They aren't great, but they aren't pushovers, and they're good enough and the Snakes late-inning offense has been good enough so that it's best to try to win the game against the starter rather than think you can win it against the 'pen.

Tony Pena and Brandon Lyon have both been good set-up men, though neither is over-powering. Doug Slaten has done well in the LOOGY role. Jose Valverde has been great as the closer, striking out more than a batter per inning and blowing only 3 of 27 save opportunities.

Dustin Nippert and Jailen Pequero are the guys you'll see when the Snakes are down or otherwise out of pitchers.

Season Prognosis:

The Snakes are in first place, of course, but I just don't see them staying there. I feel pretty confident in saying at least that the Padres are better than them. The Snakes advantage over the Padres and Dodgers should be their offense, but it just hasn't been there. All three teams have scored in the range of 326-329 runs on the year, and given the home parks of the three teams, that makes the Snake offense the worst of the three. The young prospects just haven't delivered, and at this point there's no reason to think they'll dramatically improve. It's the pitching that's kept the Snakes afloat, and that's just not going to last. I think the Snakes will battle the Dodgers for the wild card but fade by September when the back-end starters can't pull the load.

Series Prognosis:

If the Dodgers start their best players, I don't see why they can't take 3 of 4. I'm sure that Snakes fans also feel their team is set up to take 3 of 4, though. But I really think the Dodgers have the better team going into the series. Time to play the games and see!

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