2011 Dodgers Exit Interviews: Infielders

James Loney forgot his new found strength and inadvertently crushed the skull of Aaron Miles.

Our 2011 exit interviews brings us to the infield, whose production left a lot to be desired. The Dodgers' infielders combined to hit just .260/.316/.344 on the season with a National League-worst 26 home runs. The Dodgers were in the bottom half of NL teams in both adjusted OPS and adjusted wOBA at first base (14th of 16 teams in OPS+, 12th in wRC+), second base (16th, 10th), and third base (13th, 11th). The shortstops managed respectability by ranking eighth in OPS+ and seventh in wRC+.

Juan Rivera made 13 starts at first base, and Jerry Sands started three games there, but their vast majority of time came in the outfield, so they aren't counted here. Here is a look back at the 12 infielders for the 2011 Dodgers.

James Loney

What went wrong: Loney was on his way to one of the worst offensive seasons ever by a first baseman, hitting .251/.294/.318 as late as August 6 with 13 doubles and four home runs in 111 games. A third straight season with a sub-.400 slugging percentage was a given.

What went right: In his final 47 games of the season Loney went off, hitting .375/.438/.644 with 17 doubles and eight home runs in 180 plate appearances. Loney amazingly turned a historically bad season into his best offensive season since 2007.

Loney made significant changes to his swing during the season, which were broken down in detail by Chad Moriyama back in September. There is at least a glimmer of hope that Loney's late surge represented a fundamental shift that could carry over into 2012. That Loney even got to this point, given how far he had fallen, is quite an accomplishment.

2012 status: Loney has one more year of arbitration eligibility. Earlier in the year, he was lock to get non-tendered this December, but his final two months pretty much eliminated that possibility. Loney made $4.875 million in 2011. Look for his 2012 salary to start with a six.

 

Jamey Carroll

What went right: Carroll continued to provide versatility for the Dodgers, filling in for an injured Rafael Furcal at shortstop for the second straight season, and sliding over to second base after Dee Gordon arrived on the scene. Carroll started 57 games at second base and 54 more at shortstop, and his .359 on-base percentage and 47 walks were both third on the team behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

What went wrong: Though he had a good season at the plate, Carroll really struggled with runners in scoring position. He walked a lot (16 times in 106 plate appearances), but hit just .193/.333/.193 (16 singles in 83 at-bats, no extra-base hits) with RISP. As a result Carroll had 17 RBI, tied for the fifth fewest from anyone with 500 plate appearances since 1901.

2012 status: Carroll is a free agent, after proving to be a bargain for the two years and $3.85 million (plus another $600,000 in bonuses) he signed for two years ago. He turns 38 in February, so he might not get another multi-year deal, but he will a coveted infielder this offseason.

Aaron Miles

What went right: Miles was on fire in June, leading the National League with a .419 batting average, hitting .419/.418/.500. He had a stretch through July 1 when he collected 29 hits in 59 at-bats, the same number of hits than he had during his entire 2009 campaign in 157 at-bats with the Chicago Cubs.

What went wrong: Outside of June, Miles hit .253/.298/.321 in 423 plate appearances. Miles is a fine addition as the 25th man on the roster, but injuries and poor play from pretty much everyone in the infield forced Miles all the way up the depth chart to the point where he started 110 games and came within nine PA of qualifying for the batting title.

2012 status: Miles is a free agent. He signed a minor-league deal in 2011, but he'll get a major league deal in 2012 from some team, maybe even the Dodgers.

 

Dee Gordon

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What went right: Gordon had two stints with the Dodgers in his rookie season, and showed marked improvement his second time up. He hit .345/.367/.408 with five walks and 11 strikeouts in 148 plate appearances in that second stint, compared to two walks and 16 strikeouts in 85 PA, hitting .232/.250/.280 in his first month in Los Angeles.

Gordon stole 24 bases in 56 games in his rookie season, a 162-game pace of 69 steals, a figure only reached by Maury Wills (twice) and Davey Lopes in Dodgers history since 1900. Gordon also led the National League with 42 hits in September.

What went wrong: Ideally, Gordon should walk more. His seven walks in 233 PA represent a walk rate (3.0%) less than half the figure he posted in his four minor league seasons (6.5%). Defensively, Gordon showed flashes of brilliance but also had 10 errors in just 54 games at shortstop.

Also, just because Gordon is faster than everybody else doesn't mean he shouldn't throw the ball during a rundown.

2012 status: Gordon is the shortstop of the future and the shortstop of the present. He has three years of team control before he even reaches arbitration eligibility, so Gordon is likely to be the shortstop for the better part of the next decade.

 

Casey Blake

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What went right: Blake grew his beard and kept it all season. In April, Blake started 14 games and hit .321/.446/.509 with two doubles, a triple, and two home runs.

What went wrong: Blake's age 37 season was interrupted early and often with various injuries. He hurt his back in spring training and missed the first week of the season. Then in late April he had an infected left elbow and missed a month. Blake missed nearly all of July with a neck injury, then played through pain for a month before shutting it down on September 1, finally having neck surgery which ended his season. Blake's 63 games played and 239 plate appearances were his lowest totals since 2002.

2012 status: Blake is a free agent after the Dodgers declined his $6 million option, instead paying Blake a $1.25 million buyout.

 

Juan Uribe

What went right: On July 9 against the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers didn't have a hit through 8 2/3 innings of a scoreless tie. Uribe ended San Diego's no-hit hopes with a double, then scored on an RBI single by Dioner Navarro for a walk-off win. This may have been the unlikeliest of wins for the Dodgers this season, as the heroes were one guy who was taken on a Fredo Corleone fishing trip in August and another in Uribe who would have been on the boat too if he didn't have another $15 million in salary due him in 2012-2013.

What went wrong: If Dodgers fans didn't already have the putridity of Andruw Jones as a reference point, Uribe would likely define the worst case scenario of a Dodgers free agent signing. He hit .204/.264/.293 with four home runs in 77 games, and ended his season with 91 plate appearances without a home run.

Uribe even had a bad year in his medical diagnoses. Having already made one trip to the disabled list with a hip flexor strain in May and June, Uribe was placed on the disabled list with a hip strain in late July. What began as a few weeks on the sideline eventually got reclassified as a sports hernia and season-ending surgery. Uribe missed the final 61 games of the year.

2012 status: Uribe will make $8 million in 2012 in the second year of a three-year contract.

 

Justin Sellers

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What went right: The Huntington Beach native got called up to the Dodgers on August 12 when Gordon was placed on the disabled list, and made the most of his opportunity. Sellers hit is first major league home run on August 14 in front of family and friends, and had six extra-base hits in his first 57 MLB plate appearances. 

Sellers showed a good eye at the plate, walking in 8.6% of his major league plate appearances. In three years in the Dodgers minor league system Sellers has walked in 11.3% of his PA.

What went wrong: After that hot start, Sellers had 10 hits in 72 at-bats, hitting .139/.232/.194.

2012 status: Sellers has the range and the arm to play any infield position, and will be in the mix for at least a utility infielder spot next year.

 

Russ Mitchell

What went right: Sergio Santos of the Chicago White Sox began his 2011 season by not allowing a run in 16 appearances and 20 innings, but that 21st inning was a doozy. Mitchell hit a game-tying home run in the ninth inning off Santos on May 20 in a game the Dodgers would win in 10 innings.

Mitchell increased his walk rate, from 6.8% of his minor league plate appearances in 2010 to 11.7% in 2011. In the majors, Mitchell went from no walks in 43 PA last year to seven walks in 58 PA this season.

What went wrong: Mitchell hit .157/.259/.294 with the Dodgers in 2011, and that was an improvement over 2010.

2012 status: Mitchell has two options remaining, so he'll be around a while. Whether or not he can be a viable option off the bench remains to be seen.

 

Eugenio Velez

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What went right: Velez drew a walk against Cliff Lee on August 9, one of three times Velez reached base in 40 plate appearances with the Dodgers.

What went wrong: Everything else. Velez set a major league record in 2011 for most at-bats in a season by a position player without a hit, going 0 for 37. Factor in that he ended his 2010 season in San Francisco hitless in his final nine at-bats, and Velez set another major league record for most consecutive at-bats by a position player without a hit, at 46.

Velez also had a 1-for-20 stretch immediately preceding that final 0-for-9 run in 2010, so he has one hit in his last 66 major league at-bats. If we want to stick with 2011 only, Velez doubled in the first inning on June 30 with the Triple A Albuquerque Isotopes, then went 0-for-11 before getting called up to the Dodgers. So Velez finished his 2011 campaign with no hits in his final 48 at-bats.

2012 status: The Dodgers outrighted Velez to Triple A on October 4, removing him from the 40-man roster. He's an option for a bench spot, but far, far down the depth chart.

 

Ivan DeJesus

What went right: DeJesus made the major leagues for the first time, making the opening day roster. In Triple A, DeJesus found his batting eye again with 29 walks in the final 43 games of the season.

What went wrong:  DeJesus had six singles in 32 at-bats in three different stints with the Dodgers. For the second consecutive season, DeJesus was denied a September call-up.

2012 status: It's hard to envision any kind of future for DeJesus with the Dodgers. If they thought anything of him, they would have called him up in September. DeJesus has one option year remaining.

 

Rafael Furcal

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What went right: After a season of injuries, Furcal showed a glimpse of his "when healthy" self in the final week of July, hitting .364/.500/.500 in six games leading up to the trade deadline. The trade of Furcal knocked $1.4 million off the payroll and also paved the way for Dee Gordon to take the reins at shortstop.

What went wrong: Injuries were the story for Furcal in 2011, as he missed a month and a half in April and May with a broken left thumb, then missed another month with a strained left oblique in June. In 37 games with the Dodgers, Furcal hit .197/.272/.248.

2011 departure: Furcal was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 31, along with $2.5 million, for Double A outfielder Alex Castellanos.

 

Juan Castro

What went right: In his fourth time around with the Dodgers, Castro had a pair of memorable extra-inning moments. He drove in the go-ahead run with a 10th-inning single at U.S. Cellular Field on May 20 to help beat the White Sox. In his final major league plate appearance, Castro singled in the 11th inning to start a four-run rally in Cincinnati in a win over the Reds on June 4.

What went wrong: Castro's time with the Dodgers was brief this year and he played four games at second base and another at third base in 2011. But for the first time in his 17 major league seasons, he didn't play a single game at shortstop.

2011 departure: Castro retired on July 10 and joined the Dodgers front office as a Special Assistant in baseball operations and player development.

The pictures of Gordon, Blake, Sellers, Velez, and Furcal were courtesy of Getty Images.

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