Monthly archives: May 2003
Some Things You Can Tell from the Cover
I actually don't mind Joe Morgan as an announcer, but he has his flaws as an analyst. And on ESPN.com, they are even more pronounced.
JB (Danville, CA): Joe - Did you enjoy Diana Krall last night? I thought she sounded great! The A's offense is scuffling, Dye comes back this weekend and Tejada is starting to hit a little. If you're Billy Beane where do you look to add some pop? I'd love to see them go after a corner outfielder or even a move for Roberto Alomar (the Mets have to be looking to dump salary). Thoughts?
Joe Morgan: (11:03 AM ET ) I wouldn't be Billy Beane first of all!! I wouldn't write the book Moneyball!
Morgan says he read an excerpt of the book. Does he think that Beane wrote about himself in the third person?
It's not unreasonable to conclude from reading excerpts of Moneyball that Beane is not Miss Manners, but if anyone comes across poorly right now, it's Morgan.
No Big Deal for Diamondbacks
Even those of you who have long since abandoned the Adrian Beltre bandwagon should not be jealous of Arizona's acquisition of third baseman Shea Hillenbrand from Boston for pitcher Byung-Hyun Kim.
Putting aside the fact that it's a strange trade for a team plagued with pitching injuries, the Diamondbacks do not figure to get much added offense from Hillenbrand. Though he is batting .303, he has only three home runs and seven walks. His OPS is .778.
Now, 2003 may be the worst year in a long time for third basemen to come down the baseball pike (when's the last time any of you have seen a pike, by the way?), so Hillenbrand is not without value. According to Baseball Prospectus, Hillenbrand ranks as the 11th-best third baseman in baseball, far above Arizona's Matt Williams and even farther above Beltre.
Would one trade Andy Ashby for Hillenbrand? Sure. But in trading Kim, the Diamondbacks have traded their Odalis Perez.
Kim is 24 years old, 3 1/2 years younger than Hillenbrand. Despite his 1-5 record in his first year as a starter, he has an ERA of 3.56 pitching for a team that is housed in one of the top offensive parks outside of Colorado. (Fenway Park trails the BOB in offense noticeably, according to both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball-Reference.com.) BP ranks Kim as the second-unluckiest starter in major league baseball.
The trade does save Arizona money, according to reports. ESPN.com's Jayson Stark writes that "The Diamondbacks will save about $1.9 million in salary for the rest of this season. And next year, with Kim potentially due to make $5 million through arbitration, they figure to save at least another $3 million. If that $5 million keeps Curt Schilling in town, they won't have to justify this too hard."
Maybe so, although that $5 million may also be simply going to pay off the Diamondbacks' existing salary burden.
Hillenbrand's mainstream stats may look even better playing the rest of the season with the Diamondbacks, but it is very difficult to believe that Arizona has made itself a better team, today or for the future. If the Dodgers had made the equivalent trade, then you'd have reason to be upset.
If Darren Dreifort's knee problems are as serious as the media reports tell us, why not have him and Andy Ashby alternate roles for the time being.
Every other time the No. 5 slot comes up in the rotation, one pitcher would make the start and the other would serve in Ashby's current role of emergency reliever - pitching only when necessary, but otherwise resting. That way, Ashby stays fresh and Dreifort stays refreshed.
I guess your reaction to this idea would depend on your feelings about Ashby. I do feel the guy has some talent left that wouldn't weaken the Dodger rotation, Colorado notwithstanding.
With five off days in June, Jim Tracy can juggle the rotation around Dreifort's injury, so there isn't a critical need for this solution. That doesn't mean it might not be a useful one.
From the Score Bard, in response to the question, "Can the Dodgers pitching staff carry them to the playoffs?"
I think it will cause too much strain
On the Bright Side
Will Carroll of Under the Knife on Baseball Prospectus, long critical of Dreifort's injury-inducing pitching motion, wrote before Wednesday's game that:
Leo Mazzone may be a genius, but Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn just might be a miracle worker. His adjustments to the delivery of Darren Dreifort have him not only effective, but healthy. Video on Dreifort shows a stark difference between his former cross-bodied motion and his current in-line delivery. I'm still far from expecting Dreifort to make it through a full season healthy, but he's a lot closer to it now than he's been at any point in his professional career.
Too Much Range
In the third inning Wednesday, Colorado's Greg Norton hit a ball up the middle. Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis both ranged over to get it.
And they both got it.
As Cora gloved the ball with his backhand, Izturis' face collided with Cora's glove.
The impact knocked the ball into right field, and Norton ended up with a double.
Some plays really aren't captured in a box score.
Out There in the Fields
In the NBA, you can sign free agents in the middle of the season to a 10-day contract. Baseball's signing rules are more entangling.
So even though outfielders Brian Jordan, Mike Kinkade, Dave Roberts and Daryle Ward are all hurting, don't expect the Dodgers to add anyone from outside the organization.
But for 10 days - maybe more, even - there's a guy out there who could probably help. A guy you may have heard of. Plays for a minor league independent team called the Newark Bears. Here's his statline:
Henderson, Rickey: .349 BA, .468 OBP, .635 SLG, 1.103 OPS, .396 EQA.
This fellow's stats, according to Baseball Prospectus, translate to a major-league EQA of .298.
Alex Cora, by the way, has a .277 OBP and a .588 OPS in the leadoff slot this season.
Another outfielder who has earned, if nothing else, a two-week reward in the big leagues is Las Vegas outfielder Bubba Crosby. A former first-round draft choice whose career to this point has been as distinguished as paste, Crosby has a major-league EQA of .323. In 180 plate appearances this season, Crosby is batting .401/.455/.710/1.165.
The Obvious, Child
Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Scratch that - talk about missing the forest and the trees.
In his report on Wednesday's 6-0 Dodger loss to Colorado, Mike DiGiovanna of the Times spent two paragraphs talking about the Dodger hitting.
He also spent three paragraphs talking about an injury to Brian Jordan, but the rest of his article focuses on the sudden problems of Darren Dreifort and the Dodger starting rotation.
At one point, DiGiovanna writes:
"The Dodgers, meanwhile, are wondering what happened to that great rotation. After combining for a 10-0 record and 1.63 ERA during the 10-game win streak, Kazuhisa Ishii and Dreifort have combined to give up 11 runs, nine earned, and 12 hits in eight innings of the last two games for a 10.13 ERA.
Something tells me that the Dodgers may be wondering a lot of things, but are pretty clear that what happened to their great rotation is Coors Field.
There is honestly no news to report about the Dodger pitching over the past two days, unless you thought the staff was immortal.
--Playing in Denver caused Ishii to give up more extra base hits than usual and Fred McGriff to miss more easy throws from third than usual. That's not news.
--Dreifort's knee can still bother him, and he couldn't get his pitches to land where he wanted in the mile-high altitude. That's not news.
The comments in this space have been as tough on Dodger pitching as any commentary around. But for the Dodgers to allow 11 earned runs in two games in Colorado - not really a big deal. The Rockies have been shut out in 11 out of 16 innings in the series.
On the other hand, the Dodgers have scored three runs and have failed to get an extra-base hit in 18 innings in Coors Field.
That's news, folks - even for the worst-hitting team in the majors. That's the story. Was it too obvious to see, or not obvious enough?
The results of the past two games are not cause for despair, but they are cause for disappointment. A reporter might want to explore why the Dodgers have generated no power this week at baseball's DWP.
It's been at least a couple of weeks since we talked about the ongoing lack of home runs, right? Here's a refresher.
The Dodgers are on pace to hit 100 home runs this year. Last year, they hit 155.
They have the same players at every position except first base and second base, where Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek combined to hit 22 home runs in 2002. The combination of McGriff and Alex Cora figures to match that, even if Cora hits none.
The only other noteworthy change is the loss of reserve Marquis Grissom's 17 home runs.
Jordan isn't hitting home runs. Shawn Green isn't hitting home runs. Adrian Beltre isn't hitting home runs.
This weakness is not the Dodgers' only one, nor does it negate their obvious strengths. Nevertheless, an overall dropoff like this demands an examination.
Is it only a matter of time before they start to hit them out? Or is a different philosophy at the plate needed? Or have they just completely lost their ability to reach the seats?
"West Coast Whiner" sent this response to my Jody Reed-Pedro Martinez story:
Good story, very good, but it seems highly likely that if he'd stayed with the team, the Dodgers would have slagged Pedro's arm at a young age the way they had his brother's before him.
Contrast the following simple lines:
Year Ag Team IP - Ramon
Year Ag Team IP - Pedro
What-could-have-beens will never be settled, but I would not have wanted to be a young pitcher's arm in the Dodgers organization.
Top o' the World (Sort of)
During my five-day vacation to the Bay Area (two days of which, admittedly, were mainly spent on the I-5), the Dodgers moved from relative anonymity to leading the baseball highlights on ESPN. It feels good.
Seriously, even though the Dodgers fell out of first place Tuesday, I'm still chipper today - in part because the Dodger story, relegated to the inside pages of the Times sports section earlier this month, had become important enough to follow the NBA conference finals and the Stanley Cup on SportsCenter.
External validation matters way too much to me.
Of course, another loss today, combined with a Giants win, and ESPN will probably drop the Dodger highlights behind the Arena Football League. And then there's that matter of trying to get back into the playoffs.
No reason to turn all pessimistic yet, though. I guess I'm also in a good mood because the lost first inning in Denver on Tuesday had a fluky quality to it.
As Kazuhisa Ishii prepared to pitch to Chris Stynes with two runners on and two out, already trailing 3-0, I did notice a sudden glare lighting up Ishii from the third-base side.
Here's my question:
If a player can't find a fly ball in the sun and it drops untouched, the play is ruled a hit. Why shouldn't the same ruling come when an infielder loses a throw from third in the sun?
There was no humanly way for Fred McGriff to catch that throw from Adrian Beltre on Stynes' grounder. It was a fluke, but it was a hit all the way.
The highlights on ESPN didn't capture this, but watching the game live certainly did.
By the way, a recap on ESPN of the Giants 4-3, 13-inning victory over Arizona followed the Dodgers-Rockies game. If you still can, you have to catch the replay of Ruben Rivera's Etch-a-Sketch pinch-running experience in the ninth inning.
In a 2-2 game, with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Rivera was on first when Marquis Grissom hit a fly ball deep to right field. Rivera:
--ran to second and headed for third, thinking the ball would drop
How the Giants won that game after a play like that, I can't really explain.
For its part, Arizona missed a chance to move within 6 1/2 games of the National League West lead and make some noise of its own.
At any rate, it's fun right now, isn't it?
Jody Reed never walked off the field with his head bowed in shame, bearing the crushing disappointment of a Dodger crowd robbed of glory.
But Reed deserves a place right beside Mickey Owen, Ralph Branca, Terry Forster and Tom Niedenfuer in the Dodger Chamber of Horrors. The sickening cringe engendered by the memory of Forster serving up Joe Morgan's home run in 1982 or Niedenfuer tossing Jack Clark's in 1985 is every bit as applicable if you truly understand the mischief of Jody Reed. The difference with Reed is that his catastrophe came not in the hothouse mania of October but the cool epilogue of November.
Branca cost the Dodgers a pennant. Owen cost them a World Series.
Reed cost the Dodgers Pedro Martinez. No, he wasn't traded for Martinez. He cost them Martinez, as simply and horribly as a slow roller through the legs with the title on the line.
"Get Used to Disappointment"
A 5-foot-9, 165-pound second baseman who came up with Boston in 1987, Reed was an accomplished fielder and a capable hitter, with a career batting average of .270 and three seasons of more than 40 doubles. Playing in Fenway Park boosted those mainstream stats, but even using more sophisticated metrics, Reed was better than average in his first three full seasons, with OPS+ marks of 110, 113 and 109 (100 being average), followed by a 99 in his fourth season, 1991.
The decline in Reed's offensive value sharpened in 1992, the year he turned 30. His OPS+ fell to 75. Thanks to his fielding, though, Reed remained an above-average second baseman. He was no all-around great like Roberto Alomar or Lou Whitaker, but he was what he was: in the good sense, a second baseman second class.
Meanwhile, class was completely out for the Dodgers in '92. Oh, 86 consecutive seasons without finishing in last place was easy enough, but 87 was apparently too much to ask. Having come with a game of winning the National League West in 1991, the Dodgers cratered the following season, falling to 63-99.
The Dodgers had started the campaign 9-13, three games behind San Diego, when a jury acquitted four policemen in the beating of Rodney King on April 29. Following four days of postponements, the Dodgers lost seven of nine. They rallied to 23-23 in May, then buried themselves in last place for good with a 10-game losing streak in June. They finished 35 games behind Atlanta.
Things could have been worse on the mound, which featured two stalwarts - Orel Hershiser and Ramon Martinez - along with Tom Candiotti, Kevin Gross and Bob Ojeda. Pedro Astacio came up from the minors and threw four shutouts in 11 starts, finishing with an ERA of 1.98. No Dodger starter had an ERA over 4.00. None had a winning record, either.
That was because in the process of a wardrobe change with the on-field lineup, the Dodgers were caught undressed. Mike Scioscia finished his final full season with an OPS of .548 and EQA of .230. Jose Offerman finished his first full season with an EQA of .261 and 42 errors. Classmate Dave Hansen had an OPS of .585 and an EQA of .231 as the regular third baseman. Intended saviors-in-the-outfield Eric Davis and Darryl Strawberry combined for only 119 games. First baseman Eric Karros won the Rookie of the Year award, but his 20 home runs and 30 doubles masked other deficiencies - his EQA was .271. Only 35-year-old centerfielder Brett Butler posted an EQA over .300 or an OPS over .800.
At second base, the Dodgers platooned Lenny Harris and Mike Sharperson. Harris' EQA was .253 and his OPS+ was 79. Sharperson batted .300 with 21 doubles, representing the National League's worst team in the All-Star game. Including Eric Young and Juan Samuel, Dodger second basemen complemented Offerman's 42 errors with 32 of their own.
As 1993 approached, the Dodgers were in such a dismal state that just about anyone could represent an improvement. General manager Fred Claire deemed Tim Wallach, 35 years old and coming off a .223, nine-homer season in 150 games in Montreal, a better option at third base than Hansen.
By that token, picking up Reed was a stroke of brilliance. Reed came to the Dodgers in an expansion-draft-day trade with the new Colorado Rockies on November 17, 1992. (The Rockies had drafted Reed from the Red Sox that same day.) Reed's bat was a growing question mark, but when your outfit has made a slovenly 174 errors, a touch of Reed is a respectable accoutrement.
"As You Wish"
All in all, the results weren't bad in 1993. True, the Dodgers started out 8-15 in April, and never got within five games of first place for the rest of the year, landing in fourth, 23 games behind red-hot Atlanta. However, the team showed an 18-game improvement, finishing with a .500 record of 81-81, and had the psychic thrill of eliminating the Giants from playoff contention on the final day of the season with a slam-bang 12-1 victory.
On the mound, Astacio, Candiotti and Ramon Martinez were all above average. Continuing his recovery from arm troubles, Hershiser was slightly below average but better than the year before. Strikeouts from Hershiser and Ramon were dropping, but only Gross (5.22 DERA, or defense-adjusted ERA, per Baseball Prospectus) was already real trouble.
And then, somewhat hidden in a bullpen that featured a gimpy Todd Worrell and future Dodger Stadium quizmaster Jim Gott, there was Ramon's little brother, a 164-pound 21-year-old named Pedro.
Pedro Martinez is the fair maiden of our tragedy. In his rookie season, he went 10-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 107 innings. Because he has the same last name as one 1993 teammate and the same first name as another, it's hard to know whether to refer to him as Pedro or Martinez. Perhaps we would do just as well to call him Buttercup, the sought-after prize of The Princess Bride.
Don't get caught up in gender issues. It's just a device.
Of the 83 games Buttercup pitched in the minor leagues, he started 76 - including all 62 in his last three seasons. His career minor-league ERA was 3.001, including 26 starts at hitters' delight Albuquerque.
In October 1992, Dr. Frank Jobe performed the same surgery on Buttercup as he had on Orel Hershiser 2 1/2 years before. However, Buttercup's operation was on his non-throwing shoulder, and he was healthy all of '93.
For now, the Dodgers had the starting rotation covered, so there was ample time to nurture Buttercup in relief. But for a team on the rise, with Gross, Candiotti and Hershiser all over 33 years old, Buttercup's time would come.
Following the 1993 season, Claire still had greater concerns with his starting lineup. The Dodgers continued to have trouble filling the outfield spots on either side of Butler, who himself slumped to a .284 EQA. Strawberry's Dodger career ended amid what may have been the pinnacle of his erratic behavior. He had 14 hits in his final season with the team. Davis, another seemingly lost cause, had been traded to Detroit on August 31. Cory Snyder was passable, with a .265 EQA, but declining.
Wallach (.224 EQA) was awful at third. Karros (.248 EQA) slumped at first. Offerman (.260 EQA, 30 errors) was stagnant.
And yet, a single season had made a positive difference. Rookie of the Year Mike Piazza was a monster, posting a .317 EQA. Hansen, still only 24, had a .970 OPS and .345 EQA in 105 at-bats. And three prospects were ready to try to solve the problems in the outfield: Billy Ashley, Henry Rodriguez and Raul Mondesi.
It was a confusing time to consider changes to the team. On the one hand, realignment following the 1993 season had created a third division in each league, moving first-place Atlanta and third-place Houston out of the National League West. There was only one team to beat now: the Giants.
On the other hand, that Giant team had gone 103-59 in '93.
And to give one even greater pause, a new Basic Agreement between owners and the players' union had to be negotiated in 1994. Each previous negotiation period had been plagued by a players' strike or owners' lockout - seven in all.
The strikes and lockouts always ended in enough time to finish the season - even in 1981, when 50 days were lost. Still, the 1993 offseason was a risky time to go for broke. With a bright, young core in an uncertain atmosphere, this was very arguably a time to be patient.
All of which made resigning Jody Reed, who had stabilized the Dodger infield in 1993 by making only five errors in 132 games, while also stemming the decline in his own offensive production by posting a .252 EQA, a very reasonable option for Claire.
There were a couple of in-house candidates to replace Reed, but none with the talent of a Mondesi or Piazza. Eddie Pye had batted .329 in Albuquerque, but made 12 errors in 82 games at second base. Rafael Bournigal, a good-fielding shortstop who could have easily made the defensive switch to second, had gone 9 for 18 for the Dodgers in a short trial, but had batted only .277 in Albuquerque.
There were free agents - most notably Robby Thompson, who had a wonderful season with San Francisco, with an EQA of .305. Perhaps there was no better way to make up ground on the Giants than to grab one of their key players. However, as the best second baseman in the National League in 1993 - someone who could field competently to go with his top-notch hitting, Thompson was going to be costly.
On this team, if any kind of a solution could be found at third base, Reed would not need to bat higher than eighth in the order.
The Dodgers made an offer to Reed. Three years, $7.8 million.
Maybe it was too much. Reed would be 34 by the end of the contract - how long would his fielding be good enough to compensate for his hitting? But with few other options available, Reed was a good choice in a rebuilding phase. The Dodgers could afford to be that generous.
The contract offer was the easy ground ball to Jody Reed. Instead of fielding it, Reed took some time to think about it.
Yeah. Reed took some time to think about it.
It couldn't have been the money, could it? In 1993, Reed earned $2.5 million, the fifth-highest salary for a second baseman in baseball, behind Ryne Sandberg (33 years old, $5.975 million), Roberto Alomar (25, $4.933 million), Lou Whitaker (36, $3.433 million) and Craig Biggio (27, $3.05 million).
Scott Fletcher, Reed's replacement in Boston, had an WARP (wins over replacement level) of 7.5 and earned $825,000. Mark Lemke, who had a WARP of 6.1 for Atlanta, earned $550,000. Certainly, one could argue these men were underpaid. Just as one could argue that Reed was overpaid in 1993, and about to be overpaid even more.
Instead, Reed took some time to think about it.
Months later, Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times tried to determine why Reed hesitated to accept the Dodger offer. Reed's answers do not reconcile easily, if at all.
On the one hand:
Reed said his summer in L.A. was "an absolute pleasure."
"I had my fun and did my job." he said. "The fans were great, the media was great.
"I felt that I not only developed a player-manager respect with Tom Lasorda, but I enjoyed being around him. I also felt the team made big improvement.
"In no way, shape or form was I thinking it wouldn't work out for the future there."
On the other hand:
"People who put money as their top priority will say I was stupid," Reed said. "The same people will say I'm lying when I say that money isn't my top priority.
"There were personal issues I tried to work out with the Dodgers. I had no problem with the offer if it wasn't for those issues. I was uncomfortable with them, but I don't want to get into what they were."
According to these comments, Reed's delay was neither an issue of money nor an issue of happiness. As far as he was concerned, the Dodgers were offering him both. What was it, then?
Was it fear? Unnamed sources told Newhan that "Reed, as the pivot man on double plays, had some concerns for his safety on late feeds from Offerman, but how any of that played into contract talks, if it did at all, is unclear."
"There was nothing of a personal or confidential nature involved," Claire said. "There's nothing complicated or complex about it. What we were offering and they were asking was never close.
"It's that simple. We weren't in the same ballpark."
When you come right down to it, you might find a way to explain how Owen let that game-ending strike three from High Casey go by him in Game 4 of the 1941 World Series, for a passed ball that allowed the Yankees to come back and win. Maybe it was a bad pitch - maybe a spitball. Maybe Casey was the real goat of that story, and maybe Offerman was the real goat of this one.
In the end, the ball was Owen's to block. And the contract was Reed's to sign. And neither did. Reed let it all roll right past him.
And in both cases, the Dodgers came unglued.
"The Fire Swamp"
Meet the new dilemma, same as the old dilemma. Fred Claire had solved his second base problem once, but now he had to do it again. How would he?
According to the Times, Claire checked in with Robby Thompson's agent. Whatever Thompson was demanding from the Dodgers, however, was too much. Thompson resigned with the Giants at $11.625 million for three years (an average of $3.875 million per year), plus a fourth-year option for $3.375 million.
Arguably, Claire could have shot the moon for Thompson, but budgets were different back then. Only five Dodgers - Hershiser, Strawberry, Butler, Candiotti and Wallach - earned more than $3 million per season. The highest-paid player on the Dodgers, Hershiser, earned $4,333,333.
Claire had other options. In fact, he would later choose one of them. He inked a minor-league contract with Jeff Treadway, a second baseman with Cleveland whose presence had been rendered unnecessary by the emergence of Carlos Baerga. Treadway, 30 in 1993, had an inconsistent career at the plate, but was coming off a year where he batted .303 in 97 games with an OPS+ of 102. However, he also made 10 errors, which represented a huge step backward defensively for the Dodgers.
Claire also had the option to wait.
Baseball has rarely had a shortage of owners who would pay a player more than one could fathom. Claire later told Newhan that after Thompson signed with the Giants, "Jody's agent called and said that defined the market." Scary thought.
But it would have been a fairly safe hunch to imagine that no one was going to offer Reed more in the 1993 offseason than the Dodgers did. Theirs was a remarkable offer to begin with.
And if it truly wasn't about the money, then surely, surely Reed would realize that Offermanitis, or whatever was plaguing him, was no reason to turn down the contract of his life.
Time was on Claire's side, not Reed's. But then Claire compounded Reed's mistake.
He got on the phone again.
"I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!"
In the fall of 1993, Delino DeShields had all the makings of a franchise second baseman. If he wasn't the be-all and end-all, he was at least the be-all.
DeShields reached the majors at the age of 21, and in his first four seasons, from 1990-1993, his on-base percentage never dipped below .347. His worst OPS+ was 94 and he twice reached 116.
From 1991 to 1993, he reduced his errors from 27 to 18 to 11.
DeShields was no secret. In '93, he finished second in the National League All-Star balloting for second basemen behind Sandberg. DeShields was a good second baseman, apparently on the precipice of greatness at age 24. He was due for a raise from his 1993 salary of $1,537,500, but a raise that would only move him into Reed's salary neighborhood.
For Claire, there was only one issue. DeShields was not a free agent. But with Reed off contemplating the unknowable, DeShields became a temptation, one that Claire was willing to give into - with Buttercup.
Pedro Martinez, the Dodgers' brilliant young pitcher, was trade bait for Claire.
Given the uncertainty of competing in 1994, the urgency to sacrifice Buttercup to fill the second-base position seems unnecessary. But even though no one really wants to think about this now, it's not as if you could not make the case for the trade at the time. The Dodger pitching staff was by no means too good to keep Martinez, but it was still in decent shape for the time being. Meanwhile, second base was vacant.
Additionally, for all his promise, Buttercup was less proven than DeShields. And he was a pitcher - more likely to flame out. Perhaps even more likely than other pitchers.
In 1999, with the Dodgers still haunted by the decision, Newhan talked to Jobe, who operated on Buttercup, about the decision to make the pitcher available.
"I don't think I said get rid of him," Jobe said, talking about the situation for the first time. "I'd never say that, but the circumstances kind of spoke for themselves. His shoulder had come out once, and once an injury of that type occurs, you can't say it won't reoccur. He had kind of a delicate stature to start with and there were already questions about his stamina. It's a judgment call, but you had to kind of wonder, 'Golly, is this kid going to break down?' "
Amid all the uncertainty, Fred Claire could have waited to find out. He should have waited.
Instead, the announcement came on November 19, 1993. Delino DeShields was coming. Pedro Martinez was gone.
Said Claire to the Times: "I mean, we didn't stop trying to sign Jody until we made the trade, but we were never close."
He had given Reed less than a week. Not much time - but plenty for an error can come back to haunt you.
Claire went on to tell the Times: "I have a great deal of respect for Jody Reed. ... He played hard for us and he played well. As far as the negotiations, we had put forth our offer very early, before Jody really declared free agency. If he had said yes to our offer, we would not have traded for a second baseman."
A surprised Reed told the Times that he had no idea the clock was ticking.
"I mean, the only thing I don't understand about the year in L.A. was the thinking of the one guy (Claire), but he makes the calls and I'm not the first to question them. All I know is that I followed the filing rules and suddenly became a villain. What did I do?"
Playing by the rules isn't enough, though. You have to make the right plays. Reed didn't.
"The irony is that the process left us with one of the best young second baseman in baseball, if not the best," Claire said.
Before his first Spring Training game with the Dodgers, DeShields suffered a fractured cheekbone. In April, he missed four games after a collision with Mondesi. In May, a collision with Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins left DeShields with finger injuries that put him on the disabled list for nearly a month.
He played in 89 games, batting .250 with 15 extra base hits. He walked once more than he struck out, but his OPS+ declined from 102 to 85.
Meanwhile, Buttercup became an above-average starting pitcher over the next three seasons. And then, he became perhaps the most dominating pitcher in the game. His career ERA of 2.62 through 2002 is nearly two full runs lower than the league average ERA in that time. He has averaged 10.56 strikeouts per game. In 1,892 1/3 career innings, he has allowed 1.01 baserunners (not counting hit batters) per inning.
In March 1994, Jody Reed settled for one-year, $350,000 deal with Milwaukee, plus incentives, that if he reached them all (which he didn't) would have gotten him a maximum of $1 million.
Reed had three Reed-like seasons - below average hitting with above-average fielding. He retired after spending the 1997 season as a part-timer with Detroit. Over his final three seasons, according to Baseball-Reference.com, he made a total of $2,875,000, or about what he would have made in 1994 alone had he accepted the Dodgers offer.
This tale, of course, is not about whether Jody Reed made enough money to live off of. It is simply about dreadful mistakes that cost the Dodgers.
Jody Reed booted nearly $8 million. Fred Claire booted Pedro Martinez. Both looked around and thought they had a better play to make. You can see the rationalization, so tantalizing. But what blindness. Neither saw that the correct play was right in front of them. And sometimes, all it takes to triumph is to make the simplest of plays.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend. Dodger Thoughts will return Wednesday, May 28.
Notes on the Undercard
Lots of tidbits to report from Wednesday night's game. Let's get right to it:
1) My brother and I agree. Daryle Ward should not start in left field over Mike Kinkade, lefty-righty be damned.
2) I'm like in a Zen mode, man. Ishii is walking people, throwing 49 pitches in the first two innings, and I'm cool as a cucumber because of my newfound insight into his low Slugging Percentage Allowed. (See my May 19 entry.)
My skeptcism about whether this dreamstate can continue is justified when Ishii gives up a second-inning home run to Jose Hernandez. But it's a bases-empty shot, as is the fifth inning double Ishii allows to Chris Stynes. I'm breathing easy.
I never dreamed the wild man could be so peaceful.
3) So, when you're facing the wild man, and he's passed the 50-pitch mark with no outs in the top of the third by walking Stynes, and he then goes to 3-1 to your next batter, Ronnie Belliard, with Todd Helton on deck, what do you think? Send the runner?
Uh, not in a million years.
One busted hit-and-run later, Belliard has swung and missed, and Lo Duca has thrown out Stynes at second by a kilometer. One more pitch, and Belliard walks.
That's using your noodle.
4) Bottom of the third inning, 1-1 tie, Shawn Green on third with a triple, one out, Fred McGriff up. The Rockies play their infield in. Either they've decided that they can't score three runs in this game, or they are confident McGriff won't hit the ball hard. Neither makes sense to me.
Well, they walk McGriff, making the point moot, I guess, but still leaving me wondering. Brian Jordan comes up next and doubles, scoring a run and putting runners at second and third again, still no outs.
The infield comes in again for Ward, and he pops out to left.
5) Jordan's double nearly became his first home run since April 3, but it hits the wall. Not much later in the game, for the second night in a row, Adrian Beltre just misses hitting a home run. This team has won six games in a row and hit a total of three home runs in the process, seemingly voiding one of my major assertions of the season - that they can't win with such a low home run pace. But I'll stick to it, and still contend that this is more a case of fortunate timing.
If you'd like to keep track, the Dodgers have not homered since Saturday - 26 2/3 innings.
6) Paul Lo Duca bunts for a base hit in the bottom of the fourth inning. A cotton-candy salesman picks that moment to block my brother's view of the field. Not to worry - here comes the replay on the scoreboard. It shows Lo Duca taking some practice swings. Then he steps out of the box, maybe wiggles his neck a little. Then he steps back into the box, takes another practice swing.
That's it. Cut to Shawn Green, live, standing sedately near the batter's box.
7) It occurs to me, on the night of the national championship, that the Fox-owned Dodgers have never once promoted Fox-owned American Idol. Is this because?
--They know baseball fans don't want to see any of that American Idol stuff. They just want to see commercials on the stadium scoreboards for The Matrix Reloaded.
--They know fans have taped the show and don't want to spoil the ending for them.
--With a sale of the team on tap, Fox doesn't want people making the connection that the Dodgers and the network are connected.
--Fox isn't smart enough to realize a great cross-promotional opportunity when it sees one.
Gotta be the last one, right?
8) Another assertion of mine is violated with abandon in the top of the fifth. The Rockies walk the No. 8 hitter intentionally (Cesar Izturis) with two out in the bottom of the fifth. Again, if you can't get out one of the worst OPS men in baseball, what business do you have on the field? The move gets you out of the inning but allows the Dodgers to get Ishii's bat out of the inning.
But it pays off. The Dodgers don't score again. Rockies starter Jason Jennings allows 15 baserunners in eight innings - the Dodger team OPS for the game is .945 - but only three runners score.
9) In the top of the sixth inning, McGriff successfully digs out a throw from Izturis to retire Preston Wilson. After something of a slow start in April, the Dodger fielding has returned to its fine form of 2002 - even with McGriff anchoring the infield at first. The starting infielders have made 15 errors in 46 games.
In fact, the Dodgers have made 35 errors total - not bad. On this pace, they will finish with 123 errors on the season - although Lo Duca, who has nine already, will end up with 35 all by himself.
Of course, errors rarely tell the entire story. In the eighth inning, McGriff couldn't come up with a tough catch on a throw that might have completed a double play - critical in a one-run game. The Dodgers settled for a fielder's choice. No further harm done in the inning.
10) I'm tracking the Angel and Mariner games on the American League scoreboard in left field. Both games unfold similarly - the Angels fall far behind lowly Baltimore early, the Mariners do the same with fading Kansas City. Both teams pull within a run at the same time. And then, to my surprise, both teams lose.
The Angel starting pitching is startlingly absent - a 5.39 ERA this season from the rotation.
11) Bottom of the seventh: Posted on the big board in left is perhaps the most astonishing statistic I've ever seen there. Izturis, it says, leads the league with a .436 average (24 for 55) in at-bats after six innings.
You were expecting maybe Tony Womack?
Seconds later, Izturis singles to center.
I don't know where you find this list - but I did find on ESPN.com that in "close and late" situations (defined as results in the 7th inning or later with the batting team either ahead by one run, tied or with the potential tying run at least on deck), Izturis is 16 for 34 with an OPS of 1.015.
Do you believe in clutch hitters, or do you believe in utter randomness?
12) Eric Gagne enters in the ninth inning with a streak of eight straight strikeouts. He then gets the inning's leadoff batter, Mark Sweeney, down 0-2. The next pitch is a huge mistake - a fastball that Sweeney turns on and blasts to right field, looking like it will tie the game.
But it curves foul, and the Gagne fairy tale continues unspoiled. Sweeney strikes out, Larry Walker strikes out, Gagne survives the comebacker off of Greg Norton, the world survives a scary field-crasher, and Stynes strikes out to end the game.
Gagne has been in exactly 100 games since the start of 2002. He has saved 69 of those games, pitching 106 1/3 innings, striking out 157 batters, allowing 66 hits and walking 21.
It wasn't quite the same as Rick Monday snatching the flag from protesters, but it was startling to be sure.
In one moment, a comebacker is bouncing off the fingers of Eric Gagne's pitching hand. In the next, the Dodger trainers and coaching staff are rushing onto the field to see if Gagne is okay.
Just then, a dull roar is rising from the outfield stands. Security is running into the outfield. And Jason Romano, far from his center field position, has tasered a fan at the feet of left fielder Brian Jordan. The guy just dropped.
To witness the crime and the punishment in the same instant was very unnerving. I'm appalled and I'm relieved.
That Romano, though - he's got some range.
In the month of May, during which the Dodgers are 11-6, they have received this production from their 24th and 25th men on the roster:
--Larry Barnes/Jason Romano: nine games, six plate appearances, one hit
--Troy Brohawn/Steve Colyer: two games, 1 2/3 innings, 16.20 ERA
A-1 Pitching Sauce
Those are the scores of the Dodgers' past five games.
Amazingly, despite allowing only one run in each of their past five games, the past four have been come-from-behind victories. The Dodgers have been NBAing it - you can miss the first three sleepwalking quarters of the game and just tune in for the comeback. (Not that I'm advocating that.)
By the way, the San Francisco Giants, who have followed an 18-4 start by going 10-13, have allowed at least four runs in 10 of their past 11 games.
On April 12, I wrote that tallying quality starts was not a good way to measure whether the Dodger pitching staff was doing its job. True, you could use quality starts to compare the Dodger staff to other teams' pitchers. But because the Dodgers' strength is so concentrated in pitching, I argued, allowing three runs in six innings should not qualify as a quality start for the team, because it meant that for the team to win, either the bullpen would have to pitch shutout ball or that the offense would have to score five runs. In other words, something exceptional.
I think that column and subsequent ones on the same topic got more criticism than anything else I've written about this year. Regrettably, it came across that I thought the pitching was the problem with the team, not the hitting. That wasn't my point. My point was that just because the pitching was good did not mean that it should not try to be better - for the same reason that Laker fans ask Shaquille O'Neal to be better even when he averages 27 points and 14 rebounds.
Well, we can all agree now that these days, the Dodger pitching is bringing its A game.
Tonight, we'll see if it continues with Kaz "Let-'em-walk-but-don't-let-'em-sock" Ishii.
Here's a noteworthy addendum to Monday's discussion about Kazuhisa Ishii. It comes from a Bill James chat last week on ESPN.com:
Phil (NJ): Everyone knows that walks are bad for pitchers, and good for hitters. It's something that we hold for or against both parties, but it's only one event. To your knowledge, has anyone done a study to determine the proportional blame/credit a pitcher and batter should get for a single walk? Would that information be useful?
Bill James: (4:32 PM ET) Yes, that was studied many years ago. The batter has more to do with determining when a walk occurs than the pitcher does. This is really the central insight of the on-base percentage discussion--not that On Base Percentage is important; that's self-evident. But rather, that it is the hitter, more than the pitcher, who determines when a walk occurs.
Who's Coaching the Coaches?
Those impatient with the Dodger hitting might be interested in what happened in Chicago late Sunday.
The White Sox, 20th in the major leagues in OPS and 24th in runs scored, fired their hitting coach, Gary Ward (coincidentally, the father of Dodger reserve Daryle Ward). The Sox averaged 5.3 runs per game last year but are only tallying 4.0 per game this year.
ESPN.com's Jim Baker commented on this firing today - I hope he and ESPN don't mind that I quote him extensively:
You can probably file this move under the category of "it is better to do something than nothing even if it has no real meaning." Did Ward suddenly lose the ability to coach hitters? After all, he was the man in charge of the bats last year when the Sox were scoring the third-most runs in the league. Said Manuel to John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times, "This is something that I thought we needed. We tried a lot of different things to get this going. I just think this is a thing we thought would be of a big help. I thought this would jump-start us.'"
Here's an area of baseball on which there is precious little research: the impact of changing hitting coaches on team offensive performance. Probably one of the reasons nobody has bothered to do an exhaustive study on it (at least, not that I'm aware of) is that it is pretty obvious what will be discovered: there is no correlation. Former Sox player Greg Walker is the man Manuel has promoted from the minors to replace Ward. Now something interesting will happen. Paul Konerko and Joe Crede will start to play more like themselves because players of their caliber tend not to stay in the .500 to .600 OPS range for entire seasons. Walker might end up getting the credit for something that was probably going to happen eventually anyway.
By the way, I think that what Baker meant to say is that there is correlation but there is no causation.
The Dodgers, of course, look worse offensively than the White Sox. Los Angeles is 28th in OPS and 29th in runs scored. Furthermore, because of Jack Clark's motorcycle-induced injuries, there is clearly been chaos with the hitting instruction. (I wonder if coaches ever have clauses in their contracts prohibiting them from potentially dangerous activities. Perhaps Jeff Kent will become a batting instructor in the next decade and we'll find out.)
The correlation of Clark's troubles and the Dodger hitting? Some players seem to be making progress in 2003; others have fallen off a cliff. You have your Alex Coras; you have your Adrian Beltres.
No one in the Dodger organization or the media has really questioned Clark's ability to coach during his time with the Dodgers. I haven't either. Frankly, my thinking has been like Baker's - hitting coaches are only as good as the players they work with.
Obviously, no one's going to kick the man when the asphalt's already kicked him pretty good, but even before the accident, Clark has had a fairly Teflon run.
But does that really make sense?
Look at the Dodger pitching staff. The Dodgers have used 13 pitchers this season. Twelve of them have been excellent, and the 13th, Andy Ashby, may only be underperforming because there has been so little need to use him. Regardless of their pedigree, every pitcher who has been used regularly this season has done well. Check their game logs and see if you can find any of the top 12 having had more than two bad games all year.
It isn't just park effects. The Dodgers' ERA is slightly better on the road this season.
Part of that has to be knowing which pitchers to assemble on a roster. Part of that has to be pitchers knowing they have to rise to the occasion - and doing it.
Part of that has to be coaching.
And the fact that everyone from Kevin Brown to Troy Brohawn is clicking on the mound for the Dodgers does force you to wonder why the hitting is so spotty. Could it really have nothing to do with the coaching?
Previous analysis has shown that while the Dodgers figure to have a weak offense, it shouldn't be this weak. They have a similar lineup to last year's, and just by approaching - not even matching - last year's home run total, they should be able to add the half a run per game that would allow them to win regularly. Instead, they're averaging only 3.6 runs per game.
Things are going well for the Dodgers right now. They're in a soft part of their schedule. San Francisco is melting. I'm just about the last person to advocate drastic measures, and I'm one of the first to criticize the level of talent the Dodgers put in the batter's box each game. but let me pose this: As nice as it is that Cora has raised his OPS above .700, isn't it much more important that Beltre get his above .800 or .900?
As Jack Clark continues his recovery and reasserts himself in the Dodger hitting mix, the Dodgers will need to see some across-the-board improvement. Because it is possible that we have reached the point when you start to look at the Dodger hitting instruction and say, "They must be able to do better."
That Explains It
Kazuhisa Ishii's wildness gives you good reason to think that he's a pitcher more lucky than good.
Still, it turns out that there's much more going on with Ishii than his addiction to Ball 4.
Ishii has walked 30 batters in 40 innings - sufficient to drive a guy like me batty. However, Ishii has allowed only 15 runs this season, putting him in the National League top 10 with a 2.76 ERA and violating the precept that all his walks will burn him to a crisp.
Something is going very, very right for Ishii this year - and this is what it is. When opponents actually do swing their bats, Ishii is working some bigtime voodoo on them.
This season, against Ishii, opponents are:
--batting only .213 overall
--slugging only .281 overall
--batting only .140 with runners in scoring position
--slugging only .186 with runners in scoring position.
In 45 2/3 innings this season, Ishii has allowed three doubles, a triple and two home runs - an average of 1.2 extra-base hits per nine innings and less than one extra-base hit per start.
His slugging percentage allowed is the lowest in the National League. Here are the major league leaders:
2003 Slugging Percentage Allowed, Starting Pitchers
These stats threaten to write over our image of Ishii as someone who has no control with a new image of someone who forces hitters to beat him with his best pitch, no matter what. Ishii may be walking guys, but so far this season, they can't get around the bases.
Imagine - from now on, perhaps we will no longer cry like a baby every time we see Ishii walk a batter. (Well, maybe I'll cry just a little - after all, I am a baby.) Instead, we can just be looking for him to keep working that no-extra-base hit magic.
In fact, my view of Ishii has almost completely turned around.
Beware, though. It could turn right back.
In 2002, Ishii allowed only two home runs before May 31 - same as in 2003. After May 31, however, Ishii allowed 18 home runs. The walks remained relatively constant, so it wasn't as if the homers were a substitute for the walks. Ishii's strikeouts remained strong throughout 2002 as well - in the neighborhood of eight per nine innings. For whatever reason, though, hitters started muscling up on Ishii around summertime.
Ishii is back at 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings this year, but you have to remain skeptical that Ishii can keep the batting averages and slugging percentages of his opponents at this 2003 microscopic level. It's hard to believe that at some point, those walks won't burn him yet.
But this analysis has given me something new to look at. For a while, at least, it may be more interesting to see what happens when opponents swing the bat against Ishii than what happens when they don't.
Til Death Do Us Part
In their 46th year of marriage, Los Angeles Dodger fans are like the guy slouched in the living room La-Z-Boy, waiting for the Dodgers to bring them a beer.
Do they love their team? Sure. You don't come this far on physical attraction alone. And when the team puts on something seductive, like tonight's T-shirt night at Dodger Stadium against those bellwether Florida Marlins, well ... Dodger fans won't need Rafael Palmeiro's Viagra to get out of their chairs for that one. For the baseball-attending community, giveaways are pure sex. (First use of that word on the site - let's see how many readers I draw from Google searches.)
But some of the old charms don't work the way they used to. A matchup between two of the greatest pitchers of this generation, Greg Maddux and Kevin Brown - both pitching for contending teams, on an off-night for the Lakers - only drew a half-full Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
Love has as many nuances as there are colors; it's a complicated thing. Love for a baseball team is no different. A new book released this year,
Shapiro articulates that while no one in Brooklyn was actively kicking the Dodgers out of the house, few were out buying roses to romance them into staying. On Opening Day 1956, mere months after the Dodgers' long-awaited World Series title - the kiss at the end of the rainbow - Brooklyn fans slid back in their a rut:
In his box overlooking his stadium, the team's owner, Walter O'Malley, saw a sight far more disturbing (than a loss to the Phillies). All through the winter and on into the spring, the team had been pushing tickets for Opening Day. The ticket people worked the phones, calling likely buyers. But only twenty-four thousand people had come to Ebbets Field to see the championship banner raised. And while losing to the Phillies was the stuff of sighs and rolled eyes - Philadelphia had finished fourth in 1955, 21 1/2 games out - the empty seats were, for O'Malley, further evidence that he had not been hasty when he had announced nine months earlier, in August of 1955, that the team would play only two more seasons at Ebbets Field.
The strength in the approach of Shapiro, who was born in Brooklyn in 1952, is that he does not attempt to demonize O'Malley or the fans for their role in the breakup of the Brooklyn Dodger marriage. Instead, Shapiro focuses carefully on the human frailties in the story, convincing us that a team and its city may love each other without ever completely understanding each other.
A marriage can break apart without husband and wife really knowing why it did. Honestly, the Dodgers and their city needed marriage counseling, but no one was there to provide it.
As you read the book, you are struck by the total absence of alarm in Brooklyn as O'Malley pursued a new stadium to replace Ebbets Field. Shapiro laces several vignettes of the lives of individual Dodger fans throughout the book, and while the evidence is anecdotal, the people cross the cultural and generational spectrum of the city. The constant: these people had bigger worries in their lives than the fate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's clear that the life of the 1950s, that may seem so simple to us now (particularly to those of us who weren't born until the 1960s or later) was in fact plenty complicated.
Certainly, many will accuse O'Malley of greed, of putting his own concerns ahead of the people of Brooklyn, and of lying to the people to service those concerns. Shapiro writes:
But mendacity is a character flaw, not a crime. Walter O'Malley, however, was also a limited man. And it is in that limitation, not in his avarice or deceit, that his sin resides. O'Malley should have never owned a baseball team because he could not see what he had. He could not see that a baseball team is more than a business, that it is a topic of conversation. People pay to go to baseball games, and if they do not go in sufficient numbers the person who owns that team will not make money. But people also talk about the games and about the team. They think about the team and wonder about the team and share these thoughts with each other. Walter O'Malley, who sat apart from the "little people" in his private box, did not understand this. This did not make him unique among team owners. He was just the first to be so obvious about it.
What's obvious to me now from Shapiro's book is that O'Malley was just as insecure about his life and work as "the little people." In his mind, he was fighting for survival as much as the average working Joe in Brooklyn. And you can understand it. I'm a hell of a lot better off than millions of people in the world financially, but worse off than a lot of others, and there isn't a day that goes by right now that I don't question my financial well-being.
As the leader of an industry and a cultural treasure, perhaps O'Malley had more responsibility to think beyond his own concerns. But he was human. It may not be a consolation in Brooklyn today, but it is an explanation.
Robert Moses was human too. Moses had many titles in the New York political world - all of them appointed, none that he was elected to - but the best characterization of his position is that to him, New York City was his own SimCity game. The metropolis was his to redesign as he saw fit. And in this story, Shapiro tells us, Robert Moses is the force acting on the Brooklyn Dodger marriage beyond anyone's control.
Significant portions of Shapiro's book tend to the poker game between O'Malley and Moses over where in New York a new Dodger stadium could be built. The final revelation is that Moses had kept a card up his sleeve for nearly 20 years - a site in Flushing Meadows for an all-purpose stadium and sports center. Moses wanted to build there, and held such power that O'Malley's Dodgers and their fans would almost have needed a love that transcended all others to overcome his will.
Looking back, the people of New York would have probably have rather had the Dodgers in Flushing Meadows than in Los Angeles. But Moses was not inclined to help find a solution for O'Malley - again for reasons that may be nothing more than human, albeit the dark side of human. Shapiro saves his harshest writing in the book for his conclusions on Moses:
Robert Moses is the bad guy in this story. He was arrogant, imperious and cruel.
It was more than O'Malley could bear. As 1957 turned into 1958, O'Malley and the Dodgers left their fans in the living room, and moved on to their second marriage.
Shapiro makes no attempt to adapt his tale to the fan-team relationships of today, but I feel that there is a relevant connection. There are so many seen and unseen factors in any bond, whether it's the slightly over-comfortable love of the Dodgers and Los Angeles or the tattered remains of the passion that was once the Montreal Expos. Dodger fans have had plenty to complain about in recent years, but lest we forget, even without a World Series in 15 years, plenty to celebrate as well. Expo fans, well, cops should be hauling their spouse to the police station for domestic abuse - which is a shame, because the Expos are a great team to watch.
Like I said, some good marriage counseling would have done wonders in Brooklyn, and it could do wonders just about anywhere. Consider me a big believer in preventative or maintentance therapy for baseball teams and their fans.
Unfortunately, there's no one around today to provide it.
Once Around the Park ...
--Picking up where he left off in his last Dodger Stadium appearance, Brown fielded a comebacker with his bare hand in the third inning, when he could have easily used his glove. (He made four barehanded plays May 4.) He finally got around to trying out the leather in the seventh.
--The last two games I've attended have been Brown games. Total game time has been 4:12.
--Brown has also helped me inch my attendance record above .500 and above my non-attendance record for the first time this season, at 4-3.
--Maddux had trouble in the first inning, which isn't that unusual - check out his ERA and OPS stats and you'll see it's always been his worst inning. But Maddux never really got it together. In the second inning, he threw a first pitch to Adrian Beltre in the one place we know that Beltre can hit - in the up-and-in quadrant of home plate.
--Dodger Stadium concession stands will sell you beer in a plastic bottle, but if you buy a bottle of water, they will not let you keep the plastic cap. They do this because security is afraid you'll throw the cap at someone. They're adamant about this. Kind of ridiculous, don't you think? Well, that ain't all. If you buy a bottle of water from a vendor roaming the aisles, they do let you keep the cap. We live in quite an intelligent age.
--Speaking of which ... a woman three rows behind us at the game heckled Gary Sheffield at every at bat by yelling, "Get a job!" Very strange. Was she a member of Sha Na Na? Unless she intended her heckle to make Sheffield step out of the box and wonder, "What the hell is she talking about?" I have no idea what her train of thought was. I felt like turning around and yelling at her, "Attend a sporting event!"
--Robert Fick's throwing error in the seventh inning produced the fifth Dodger run, but Paul Lo Duca produced the throwing error. With runners on first and second and one out, Shawn Green grounded to second baseman Marcus Giles. Lo Duca stopped in his tracks, causing Giles to throw to first to get Green and keep the double play alive. Lo Duca then hung out between first and second, hoping to produce a rundown that would allow Cora to score. It was pretty hopeless, but it worked - Fick threw the ball in the dirt 10 feet from second base. Never give up - never surrender.
--My brother Greg didn't understand why, when the Dodgers put on the scoreboard the statistics of a pitcher who has pitched, say, 6 1/3 innings, they print it as 6.1 innings. If it's 6 2/3 innings, they print it as 6.2. This disturbed him. But when I pointed out that this was a clever combination of Base-10 and Base-3 mathematical systems, he seemed much more accepting. (You may have to be in your thirties to appreciate this.)
Still holding your breath?
With Kevin Brown's strikeout of Greg Maddux to end the top of the fifth inning Wednesday night, the Dodgers completed exactly 25 percent of their season.
Brown is still standing. The walls and furniture of visiting locker rooms across North America may not still be standing, but Brown is.
In 2003, Brown is 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA. Next week, Brown will probably match his totals for all of 2002 in games started and innings pitched. Coming off a 3-4, 4.81 season, Brown has emerged as a leading candidate for the National League Comeback Player of the Year award.
His biggest competition? Darren Dreifort.
Dreifort is still standing, too. At 2-3 with a 3.95 ERA, Dreifort's 2003 stats are not as impressive as Brown's. But Dreifort, of course, had an infinite ERA in 2002 - so to reach 3.95 is actually quite a reduction.
Dreifort is allowing an OPS of .674. Brown is allowing an OPS of .561.
Dreifort is giving the Dodgers a steady 6.16 innings per start. Brown is giving the Dodgers 6.34 innings per start worthy of an ace.
The big question, of course, remains how the remaining 74.7 percent of the season will unfold for Brown and Dreifort. Brown really looks comfortable right now; he hit 95 mph on the Dodger Stadium radar gun in the seventh inning Wednesday night, just as he did in the eighth inning May 4. There is no semblance of a pitcher with ailments. Dreifort appears the more fragile pitcher - more because of his knee than his arm right now, but handle-with-caresque just the same.
But what do you think about the smaller question? If their seasons played out the way they have so far, who would be named Comeback Player of the Year? The guy who went from injury-plagued to great, or the guy who went from shelved to good?
Survey says ... Brown. His final numbers would shine, and the difference between Brown's statistics from 2002-2003 is a plenty substantial indication of how major his ailments were. I think Brown would get points for even attempting to pitch in 2002.
In contrast, a Dreifort that finishes with 10 wins and an ERA in the neighborhood of 4.00 would get a tip of the cap for his efforts, but not much more. Brown's stats would make Dreifort's look mediocre, and I don't think anyone wants to give the reward to a mediocre pitcher - especially one that gets paid like he's an ace. A sharper contrast will be drawn between the 2003 performances of Brown and Dreifort than their 2002 injuries.
What could hurt Brown's candidacy?
If the next thing he slams with a bat in a locker room isn't a shelf, but a reporter.
Scroll down to read Robert's May 13 entry on Priorities & Frivolities, Little Ball Strikes Back. Robert has joined the crusade against the tyranny of little ball, and I'm glad to have him as an ally.
There is a time and place for the bunt, to be sure, but the Dodgers can't afford to have their best hitters giving up sure outs, trading potential big innings for small ones. With your fastest runner on base, with your best contact hitter at the plate, with no outs, in the first inning, you do not bunt.
Plunging Back to Reality ... It's Not That Bad
The Dodger bullpen has completed its run to normal from superhuman. First, it was the four-run sleestaks it allowed in back-to-back seventh innings in Montreal. Then, the seven-run puffnstuff that came across in the ninth inning Monday against Atlanta.
Tuesday against the Braves, the bullpen arrived safely in reality when it allowed runs in an eighth inning for the first time since April 7 - a streak of 31 games.
Before Tuesday's game, I updated this chart - this will be the last time you see it:
Dodger pitching in the eighth inning, 2003
Here, including Tuesday's game, is the Dodgers updated score-by-innings:
Opponents ...17 13 16...17 16 13...17 04 11...02 01 03...00 - 130
The team still dominates the latter innings, but not as magnificently. And the deficit early on remains bulbous.
With Tuesday's loss, the Dodgers fell to 20-20. This marks a good point to introduce a letter I recieved from Rishi Nigam, a self-described "Dodger fan in exile in, of all places, New Jersey." Here's an excerpt (it arrived before Tuesday's game):
I'm fond of tracking seasons as they move along by breaking them into segments. I feel as though the National League Wild Card team is likely to need 96 wins (which, as it turns out is effectively what the Giants had last year, since they didn't ever play the rained out game with Atlanta). To accomplish that over a 6-month season, a team needs to be 30 games over .500, which translates to 5 wins over .500 per month. Clearly, the Dodgers didn't do that in April.
However, starting May at exactly .500, that means they would have to be 30 games over in 5 months, or 6 games over per month, which is not really materially different from the 5 games over pace needed over a full season. So, given that they are now only 1 game over for May, that means that they need to be 5 over in the final 16 games of the month, or a record of 11-5 (which is actually a little better than they need, but we'll err on the side of caution). If they were to end the month by treading water instead of making a run, they'd need to be 7 or 8 games over per month from there on out, which seems like a tall order.
All of that said, I feel like the Dodgers are now entering a critical stretch in which they have to find a way of playing .667 ball for the rest of the month. The pitching staff is doing everything it can to make this team a contender. And I agree with you that more home runs would go a long way to bringing things around, but Green and Beltre often look totally feckless at the plate, getting behind and swinging at balls they have no business trying to hit. Green has his moments and will turn things around. Someone needs to work with Beltre on pitch recognition. He should be fined each time he swings at breaking ball outside and in the dirt for strike 3. He makes too many opposing pitchers look like Cy Young. And while we're fining people, let's start fining anyone on the team who makes a first pitch out. Okay, maybe that's too reactionary, but the offense needs to step up against the likes of Florida, Colorado and Milwaukee.
Sorry if I sound too down on the team. I think they're still finding their feet. Green will be fine as the season starts to go along. McGriff and LoDuca are coming around. I'd like to see more aggressiveness like last night when Izturis went to second on a ball that could easily have just been a single. I'd like to see Roberts try stealing third with fewer than 2 outs on occasion.
This team is half a run of offense per game away from being a force. They just need to find their feet before its too late. All of this said, I'm not silly enough to think that if they finish the month 4 games over, say, that they'll be out of the race. But games now count every bit as much as games in August and September, and the Dodgers have certainly found it more difficult to win late in the season in recent years.
Okay, I'll stop now, but I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have on the points I've raised.
Here's a portion of my reply:
Your logic about games over .500 per month makes sense to me. Without having thought about it in those terms, it's been clear to me that any team can afford to have one lousy month and still make the playoffs - but really, only one lousy month. More than that, and you have to play about .750 ball in the other months, which is asking quite a bit.
However, a .500 record in a month is not lousy.
The Dodgers actually went 32-23 (.582) in the final two months last season, which is good - they lost out because the Giants played out of their minds (36-18, .667). You probably looked this up already, but just for my reference:
Dodgers 2002 - Games Over .500
So there's no doubt that even if they emerge slightly below your May 31 target, they'll still be in at least the wild-card race - just as they were able to fall out of the playoffs after leading the division around the All-Star Break.
As far as this month goes, I am very interested in how they do in their six games against Colorado. I had no expectations for the Rockies this year, but they certainly don't appear to be doormats. If nothing else, I'd like to see the Dodgers leave May firmly in second place in the NL West.
I don't have specific comments about the Dodger offense to add in response to yours beyond what I've written on the website. Just to reiterate my current thinking ... as exciting as it was to see Izturis stretch into that double, the Dodgers can make the playoffs even if he generally holds at first on that play. Whereas, I don't think they can make the playoffs if they don't average close to a home run per game. The Dodgers' current speed and power production may both be below the team's capabilities, but improvement in the power area will go a lot further. I think their problems are less about turning singles into doubles than about turning outs into home runs.
All the best,
To add to one of my above points, while it's true that a team can have a lousy month and still content, it's also true that a team usually compensates for that with an exceptional month. In other words, Rishi's barometer is useful to tell you whether you're on pace, but I don't think that even good teams really adhere to it. I invite someone to follow up on this, but I'm fairly confident that a playoff team usually has at least one .667 month, which I would call exceptional.
The Giants, of course, have already done this. The Dodgers, I believe, are capable.
This is a chart of the Dodgers' 2003 record in games decided by x number of runs:
Games decided by ...
You might take from this that the Dodgers need to improve their record in one-run and two-run games in order to make a run, but more than one analyst has determined that isn't really the case.
Here's an excerpt from Rob Neyer's ESPN.com column before Tuesday's game:
So what explains the Braves' apparent over-achievement, as suggested by their run differential? Simple: they're 10-1 in games decided by one or two runs. And now, that's not going to continue. As I've written (and "proved") many times, "winning the close ones" is not the hallmark of a great team. The hallmark of a great team is winning the blowouts.
I searched but did not immediately find one of Neyer's many proofs. But I did find an article by Eddie Epstein that helps. I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but here are the key points.
1) "Very good teams had a worse record in one-run games than their overall record."
2) "When you look at the data, relatively speaking, it's really the bad teams that win the close games."
3) "When a game is close, the final outcome becomes more dependant on luck than it does when the game is not close. Luck, by definition, doesn't really favor anyone."
Thus, the fact that the Giants are 7-2 in one-run games and the Dodgers are 7-8 would not make the Giants better, it would make the Giants luckier. That the Giants are 12-4 in games decided by two runs or less, while the Dodgers are 8-12, indicates something similar.
If you've listened to Ross Porter at all this season, you've had it ingrained in your head that the Dodgers are leading the majors in one-run games for the third straight year. If you buy the above logic, the Dodgers are therefore dependent on luck more than any other team.
Discussion of luck has entered into my columns more than once; I simply think it's unavoidable. With so many close games, the victor is not always going to be the better team. You do make some of your own breaks, but you don't make all of them. That's why a coin doesn't land on heads 81 times out of 162 flips.
To date, the Dodgers' strength of schedule is .500; the Giants' is .503.
The Dodgers are 12-8 (.600) in games decided by three runs or more. The Giants are 13-8 (.619) in games decided by three runs or more.
To me, this is a potential indicator of how close these teams are. With a little luck - and yes, some more Dodger home runs - this will be a race.
Reason to Take Colorado Seriously?
On May 10, Thoughts From Diamond Mind speculated about whether Colorado is a contender or pretender. Here is an excerpt:
Colorado has already played 20 games against teams that were projected by most people to finish first or second in their division, plus three more against the Cubs, owners of the top spot in the Central. A near-.500 record and a run margin of +2 indicates that they're holding their own against the league's best, and that augurs well for the rest of the season. Things won't get easier right away ... but if the Rockies are still in the vicinity of .500 on June 2nd, they could be a team to watch.
The Dodgers play Colorado six times in a 10-day stretch starting May 20.
Things I thought would never happen, or at least counted on never happening:
Monday night, Eric Gagne faces five batters and allows four runs.
This morning, I scrape the side of my car against a post while parking.
Maybe I can get Gagne to pay for the damage.
This was the first car mishap that I've caused since 1985, and there was no reason for it other than there was a tight space in a parking lot that was one-third full that I thought I could squeeze into. But I didn't squeeze enough.
You should see the scrape. It's bigger than home plate and just as white on my dark blue car.
I'm sitting here now thinking, how can I make this relevant to my readers? Lots of superficial comparisons pop into my head, like silly mistakes on the basepaths or walking the pitcher leading off an inning. But those don't take the immediate toll on your wallet the way a car accident does.
One way that this relates to baseball is that I'm trying to make myself feel better after a bitter experience. That's nothing new when it comes to rooting for the Dodgers - Monday night was no different. The entire baseball season is a quest for perspective.
So here goes.
Everyone blows it sometimes. Me. Gagne. Everyone.
Sometimes you're just gonna blow it for no good reason, but sometimes you've gotten by for no good reason.
There will come a time when the cost of this calamity will be a faint memory, with no emotional charge at all.
Okay, that's helping, but not enough.
I think I've stumbled onto the problem - and I think it actually does relate to the Dodgers. When something like this happens, you can have all the confidence in the world that it was an aberration, as Gagne surely has about himself and I basically do about myself. And yet, you're still staring into uncertainty. You don't really know whether your mishap is merely the sign that you're human, or the sign that you're Adrian Beltre. You don't know whether your run of misfortune is over, or whether it has just begun - and whether it will get a lot worse.
So what do you do? You refocus. You become more careful. You can't relax quite as much as perhaps you were, but you try to benefit from this new attention to the fundamentals.
And then you realize that, although Gagne and Beltre look better financially today than I do, their tightrope is a lot smaller to tiptoe across. Their passion and livelihood are at stake with every bad moment that can become a bad streak.
For me, it's just my livelihood, to the extent that dollars paid out for car repairs affect it. I will say that my passions have taken their own beatings from time to time, but it serves as a reminder that when things go wrong for ballplayers, no matter how good they are, they probably care and question themselves a hell of a lot more than we realize.
For me, overall, life is good. Today, in fact, is my wife's birthday, and though this car accident could have spoiled my celebration of it, I'm reminded that I'm damn lucky to be married to her and to be able to celebrate with her.
And I'm damn glad that my lapse of driving concentration came with a pillar, not a person.
You know, I think I actually feel a tiny bit better. The rest of you may be worse for wear for this therapeutic fooforall, but for me, I will face the unknown and get over this.
Rejects and Projects
Baseball Prospectus stats:
1) These stats catch players in the middle of some hot streaks (Cora, Karros, Izturis, McGriff) and one big cold streak (Grudzielanek).
2) That said, for the season to date, the Dodgers have better offense at second base than the Cubs do. On defense, statistically, it's harder to distinguish between the two. My sense is that Grudzielanek has gotten harsher criticism defensively than he's deserved. All in all, though, Cora appears to be the better of this almost gruesome twosome.
3) It's good that his batting average is rising, but Izturis is still going to have to hit more than singles and the occasional double to become even an average offensive player. Defensively, these stats also don't appear to reflect what we all think is his true value.
4) Had the Dodgers kept Grudzielanek and started him at second base with Cora at shortstop, the team's numbers would have been slightly but not significantly better.
5) Playing mostly against left-handed pitching, Karros is doing well for Chicago, and is 8 for 15 with two walks in May. Playing every day, McGriff has raised his numbers with a fairly hot May of his own. At this point, the exchange of McGriff for Karros simply seems to have helped both teams. Their alternates at their position with their respective teams, Hee Seop Choi and Mike Kinkade, bat from the opposite sides, creating the opportunity to maximize output. Dusty Baker has taken better advantage of this than Jim Tracy so far.
I think that the trade of Karros and Grudzielanek for Hundley (with McGriff signing as a free agent) has been as positive as either team could have expected. It was a mutual salary dump, but so far, there has been no harmful fallout. None of the additions or subtractions is dragging his team down. There is an onus on both teams, however, to react promptly if and when the stats of any of the involved personnel decline - and in the case of Grudzielanek, that moment may have already arrived. Tracy and Baker must carefully massage their weaknesses.
Imagine founding a town.
For example, picture Los Angeles 100 years ago. A small but growing populace surrounds the core near Spring and 2nd. A smattering of people build homes near the beaches of Santa Monica and in scattered areas in between. But throughout a region that within two or three generations will be jammed, there are acres and acres of beautiful, undeveloped territory, just waiting for a few people to set up a livable, hospitable environment for everyone to enjoy.
In many respects, that is what Baseball Prospectus has done.
It may seem now that the Internet has been around forever, but only 10 years ago, most of you had probably yet to send your first e-mail. The Internet is still the frontier. There are some, as Homer Simpson would say, metropolisises - for us, the most important is probably ESPN.com - and smaller cities and international cities and, to be sure, exotic cities filled with temptation for the intrepid traveler. But as more and more people migrate to the Internet, the demand is growing for a town that really feels like home.
Baseball Prospectus is the commune that is rapidly growing into something much, much more. And it's impressive.
A small group of people set up a website and just start writing about baseball. Members of the group come and go, but the site expands in different areas and ambitions, all the while trying to examine their subject in a new and intelligent way that is unprecedented as a group effort. They start charging for some of their product - to the consternation of some - but the point is, they're doing this without a model and without a net. It's risky work.
They're actual pioneers.
I guess by this extended analogy, Dodger Thoughts is like the people who went west but settled in Blaine, Missouri, but that's another story.
I write about this today because Saturday, I attended what has become essentially the Baseball Prospectus town meeting - one of their pizza feeds that they occasionally schedule in various places in the U.S. and Canada. Ours was at Vitello's in Studio City, and was so classy, that a) there were nametags and b) as far as I know, no one mentioned Robert Blake once.
Baseball Prospectus authors Joe Sheehan, Jonah Keri and Doug Pappas co-hosted - and were good at it, mingling with us misfits and making us feel welcome. For a considerable time, for example, Keri took a seat at a table occupied by myself and two other Dodger fans. Keri is from Montreal and has even gone in on a season-ticket package for the Expos despite living out here, several thousand miles away. He came of age as a baseball fan around the time Rick Monday homered, so his love of the Dodgers is somewhat akin to my love of tequilla. But Keri wrote the chapter about the Dodgers in the 2003 Baseball Prospectus yearbook and at a minimum is invested in how they perform. He seemed appalled that the Dodgers could do no better than Fred McGriff in the offseason - Keri suspected that Joe Thurston had little to offer and thinks Ray Durham should have been signed - but was at least partly persuaded by my point that the Dodgers are detoxifying from the overspending of the Kevin Malone era.
(Keri is also very high on David Ross and was most gratified by Ross' home run in his season debut Friday. He additionally likes another Dodger minor league catcher, Koyie Hill, and praises the Dodger depth at that position. As for the depth at other positions ... not so much.)
A brief Q and A followed that touched on Pappas' research on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, speculation on changes to the playoff format and why Rickey Henderson could help 15 teams but has been offered contracts by none. Shortly after, the staff at Vitello's said our time was up and replaced us with fresh customers faster than a line change in Mighty Duck land. (Wrong sport, I know - but congrats to them.)
In other words, the gathering was aimable and informative but not earthshattering. What's noteworthy to me, though, is the moment we're currently living in as baseball fans. If radio and then television first revolutionized our ability to enjoy the game, the Internet is Revolution No. 3, with its ability to get other voices out there. We're still living right in the thick of it.
As inevitable as the movement may be, its ultimate value depends on the human variable. Sites like Baseball Primer and Baseball Prospectus are operating in virgin territory, not only writing about baseball but adding to the actual history of how baseball is covered and distilled. It takes much effort just to exist in this frontier, and much more skill to do so with merit and attract others to it.
There's no guarantee that Baseball Prospectus won't someday become a ghost town - Sheehan told me that the braintrust (my word, not his) will meet in July to evaluate their progress and determine their future course of action - but my sense is that there's little reason not to be optimistic.
On one level, it's truly interesting to me just to be able to watch how the West will be lost or won. But like I said, I'm guessing that they'll win. And I'm enjoying following ever-so-modestly in their footsteps.
Here's a List You Don't See Every Day
Ran into this link while doing a search on Google. You might want to bookmark it.
Right On, Right Off
In his final three at-bats Saturday, Adrian Beltre made an obvious effort to go to the right side with the pitch, and got singles all three times. The balls weren't hit tremendously hard, but I still think it's an encouraging sign to see him go with an outside pitch rather than trying to hook around it like he was taming the Indy 500.
Beltre went a little too far to his right when taking his lead from second base in the eighth inning, unfortunately.
McGriff-Kinkade Day 3
Fred McGriff continued his assault on my good name with a game-winning home run off a left-handed pitcher Friday.
Mike Kinkade continued to defend my honor by getting hits and drawing what was essentially a Barry Bonds-like intentional walk with runners on first and second and two out.
I'm not trying to make this about me, but I do feel my credibility is at stake.
I still think I'm right about McGriff, and that the past two nights were a fluke. But the debate is purely philosophical now. With two consecutive big games off left-handed pitching, Jim Tracy will now have no qualms about continuing to bat McGriff cleanup against lefties every day for quite a while.
I fought the Crime Dog, and the Crime Dog won.
(Just to be clear, this was only about lefties. McGriff already had my blessing to go to town against righties.)
But what to do about Kinkade? The guy simply has not been getting out. How much work do you do to get him more at-bats?
If you're not going to play him at first against lefties, I don't know what you do. His poor fielding at third base neutralizes his offensive value if you put him there - he simply doesn't field well enough at the position to consider him as a replacement for Adrian Beltre - even if you're a Beltre-basher, which I'm not.
He could give Brian Jordan - and even Shawn Green - more than an occasional rest in the outfield. Keep everybody fresh.
I suppose that as long as McGriff hits, it's not really a problem. But if McGriff reverts to form against lefties, it could get frustrating watching Kinkade languish on the bench.
Piazza to Los Angeles?
There are at least 14 stories in New York papers today about Mike Piazza moving to first base.
There is one story in Los Angeles today about Piazza perhaps coming to the Dodgers by 2004. And Ross Newhan makes a plausible case.
The small question is whether Piazza can field a position which, while easier than catching, does benefit from a talented defender.
The big question is whether Piazza's offensive numbers have been declining because of the wear and tear of catching, or the wear and tear of aging.
The big answer may be that it just doesn't matter. Last season was the worst season of Piazza's career, but he still had an OPS of .913 and an EQA of .304. This season, when Piazza is supposedly really struggling, his OPS is .890 and his EQA is .311. Those numbers still top every Dodger regular.
I wouldn't give up the farm for Piazza, who turns 35 this season, but I might give up a barn or three.
I'd still bet on Piazza finishing his career in the American League, however.
Trying to Make Me Look Bad?
Kazuhisa Ishii, who I have said should go to the bullpen, pitched six innings of one-run ball Thursday and lowered his ERA to 2.95.
Fred McGriff, who I have said cannot hit left-handed pitchers, much less bat cleanup against them, went 2 for 4 with 2 RBI.
Ron Coomer, who I have said should not be on the Dodger roster, doubled and scored in three at-bats.
Adrian Beltre, who I have said still has more potential than almost every hitter on the team, struck out on three pitches with two runners on.
The Dodgers, who I have said need to hit home runs to score, scored six runs without one.
Looking good, huh? Well, I've looked better.
Ishii confounds me, I have to say. He's allowed 56 baserunners in under 40 innings. But what must be happening is that amid all the leadoff walks that make me about to keel over, he is finding a way to generate outs with runners on. (It helps, say, when Brian Jordan can make a superb catch with runners on in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. Without that catch, we're having a different conversation this morning.) Anyway, I need to find Ishii's stats with runners on as opposed to bases empty.
Ishii also taked after the game about adjusting his delivery. There have been times that I have noted - anecdotally - that Ishii has gone to pitching in a stretch, even with the bases empty, and improved his performance. Perhaps his ability to minimize scoring, with runners on base all season and overall on Thursday, has something to do with that.
As for McGriff, he did get his hits, but Brian Jordan went 1 for 2 with two walks and Mike Kinkade went 1 for 1. So it wasn't like I was wrong about Jordan and Kinkade getting primacy over McGriff against lefties. Even after Thursday's game, McGriff's OPS against lefties is .508. Jordan improved to 1.209; Kinkade to 1.583. (Again, the 2003 stats come from small sample sizes, but the differences echo the stats from 2002.)
As for Coomer and Beltre, well, Coomer's still an aging player who's no better than Beltre. I am glad Coomer got his double (especially now that I know how big a Springsteen fan he is), but I haven't given up hope that Beltre can be solved. Certainly, he must be solved for the Dodgers to win this season.
Finally, as for the home runs - they're not the only way to score runs. But the home run is an area of the offense where it's clear the team is performing below its potential. Stuck at 20 after 35 games, the Dodgers have been passed by Detroit and have fallen into last place in the majors.
The six runs the Dodgers scored last night was the most they have scored all season without a home run. They don't figure to repeat that feat too often. The home run issue still needs to be addressed and corrected. There has to be a reason why this team has had such a sudden dropoff in power.
In any case, the Dodgers are now 9-4 in their past 13 games. They have put together a true winning stretch. The series with Montreal, a team that is No. 3 in the league in run differential, will be a meaningful test.
I still find myself rooting against the Arizona Diamondbacks, even when they are playing teams with better records, even though their season is crumbling like bleu cheese.
Starting pitchers Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Byung-Hyun Kim have all had their names typed onto the disabled list, and have combined for three wins and a 5.11 ERA. Now Craig Counsell, who did nothing for the Dodgers but seems to go 3-for-4 against them every time he faces Los Angeles - a latter day Jim Eisenreich - has his second significant injury in less than a year.
That said, Arizona remains only 2 1/2 games behind the Dodgers. It's still hard not to fear them rising up and biting us like a, I don't know, venomous snake.
It can happen to anyone. Have you noticed that woebegone Detroit has crept to within two games of woebehere Cleveland?
More and more people in the baseball world are talking about Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, and now I know why. Last night, I read the excerpt printed in Sports Illustrated - and it was just a terrific read. I look forward to reading the book's surrounding pages.
By the way, I am wrapping up The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers, and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro and plan to write about it soon.
Romancing the Unturned Stone
The Fred McGriff mystery is solved!
We just need to get to the epilogue. You know, like the part at the end of Dragnet where everyone gets what's coming to them.
Robert Kuwada of the Orange County Register fulfilled one of my open requests from Wednesday. He asked Jim Tracy why he was batting left-handed Fred McGriff after left-handed Shawn Green:
A case might be made to put Brian Jordan between Shawn Green and Fred McGriff, the two power left-handed bats in the Dodgers lineup.
But Tracy has had Green and McGriff back-to-back the past nine games, trying to get Jordan more at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"To me, Brian Jordan is the guy who best fits the bill (in the No. 5 spot in the lineup)," Tracy said. "With Shawn or Fred on base, he is the guy you would want to see up there with a bat in his hands in those situations right now. Brian Jordan, in his own way, figures out ways to do something."
Okay - the problem with this theory is, Jordan is getting on base more than McGriff - or Green, for that matter:
Jordan OBP: .374
However, against righties, McGriff does leapfrog Jordan and Green:
McGriff OBP against righties: .379
Here are the OBP numbers against lefties:
McGriff OBP against lefties: .167
By the way, do you see the anomaly. Green is getting on base more against left-handed pitchers. That's only in 46 plate appearances, however, and deviates from a longtime career pattern of getting on base more against righties.
McGriff's numbers are extreme, but no anomaly. As I've overdocumented on this site, he hasn't been hitting lefties for a long time.
So here's the compromise I'm offering Jim Tracy. McGriff can bat cleanup against right-handed pitchers. But when a left-handed reliever comes in, Tracy must pinch-hit for him with Mike Kinkade.
The need for this too apparent to ignore. I mean, did Tracy go to all the trouble of removing Eric Karros from his crumbling Dodger pedestal, only to install McGriff atop it? Tracy needs to make the move.
In the Times this morning, Tracy said the following:
"There is no bigger critic of me than myself," Tracy said. "If I walk out [of his office] and feel like there was a stone that I left unturned that would have helped us win, or quite possibly helped us to get beat, that would keep me up every minute of the night. I can tell you that in the three years I've managed this club, there have been very few times that I walked out of this room and felt that way."
Look, Jim - a stone. An upside-down stone.
Turn it over.
This Is the Cause
On April 29, I noted how much less frequently the Dodgers are hitting home runs with a similar lineup to last season's. I'm still in the exploration stage on this issue, but I am really starting to think there has been too much emphasis on the Dodgers needing to scratch and claw out runs by the bunt and hit-and-run. As a team, the Dodgers need to start swinging for the fences.
Here is the Dodger won-lost record in 2003 broken down by runs scored in a nine-inning game:
less than 3 runs...1-11
This is exactly what you would expect from a team that is scoring 3.52 runs per game and allowing 3.03 runs per game. In fact, the only unexpected result of this breakdown is that it adheres so closely to expectations. As of this moment, the Dodgers have even played exactly the same number of nine-inning games in which they've scored above and below three runs.
Here is the Dodger record in 2003 broken down by runs allowed in a nine-inning game:
less than 3 runs...11-1
The breakdown is not completely dissimilar from a pitching standpoint, except that allowing three runs in a nine-inning game hasn't been good enough. When Dodger opponents score their third run in a nine-inning game, they are 12-4.
The Dodgers are averaging 0.49 more runs than they allow. With just the slightest improvement - an improvement within the range of possibility - the Dodgers can start to become a winning team. It's in the range of possibility because even the Dodgers can do better than their current ranking of 29th in the major leagues in home runs.
Currently, the Dodgers have no power potential at CF, SS and 2B.
At the five positions where they do have power potential:
--not one is performing above expectations heading into this season.
It's time to get specific when we talk about the woes of the Dodger offense. There may be other problems with the team, but the lack of home runs is the biggest.
Start with Adrian Beltre if you like. He has been disappointing based even on our sliding scale of high expectations for him. However, Brian Jordan, Fred McGriff, Paul LoDuca and Shawn Green are also falling short. No Dodger is on pace to hit more than 20 home runs this year.
This is a collective failure.
And when a collective failure like this happens, it's time for someone to examine the Dodgers' overall approach. This could have something to do with the way they swing the bat, Jack Clark's injuries, or what the Dodgers are eating for breakfast. But something bigger than any individual is holding back the Dodgers.
I don't mean this in as poor taste as it may sound, but the inability to hit home runs has spread across the team like a virus, and the Dodger braintrust needs to attack that virus like it was life and death. Because, within the realm of the 2003 pennant race, it is.
Q & No A
1) When Odalis Perez is coming off a 132-pitch outing - itself inexplicable - what did Jim Tracy think he had to gain by sending Perez out to pitch in the sixth inning Tuesday when Perez had already thrown 93 pitches and allowed 10 baserunners?
2) I asked this question in March, but still have no answer. What does Tracy think he has to gain by batting lefties Shawn Green and Fred McGriff back-to-back? The Mets exploited this Tuesday, bringing in Mike Stanton to mow down Green and McGriff, then bringing in Scott Strickland to get Brian Jordan and Adrian Beltre.
3) When will Tracy face the longstanding reality that McGriff does not hit lefthanders anymore?
McGriff 2003 OPS vs. righties: .804
McGriff 2002 OPS vs. righties: .946
I like Tracy, so I don't ask these questions rhetorically. I assume there are answers. True, it'd be nice if I went out and did the asking instead of depending on others to do so - after all, they are my questions. I just don't know why none of the beat reporters find this relevant.
Frontier Justice in the Park
A 95-mile-per-hour fastball races at your skull thisfast. Instinctively you duck away, the baseball slamming into your shoulder, branding you like cattle at the Double-R Rawlings Ranch.
In the next moment - the moment just after you realize how much pain you are in - judge and jury synapses in your brain render a verdict: That pitcher tried to hit you on purpose. He hurt you with an intentional act.
In response, you could charge the mound. You could make a conscious decision to do this, or it could be as instinctive as your move to duck away from the fastball in the first place.
In either case, what can you hope to accomplish?
1) You might hurt the pitcher back. But frankly, the chances of that are slim. You may be a burly sort with Popeye arms, but you're no fighter. Think about all the baseball brawls in our lifetimes. How many times has someone actually exacted physical revenge on a beanballer? Usually, the batter is intercepted before reaching the pitcher. If the batter does reach the pitcher, he rarely has the skill and time to inflict any real damage.
2) You might show the team, the fans, the media, the history books, your family, that you're not going to take this crap lying down. You're sending a message, but it's less about the pitcher than about yourself. You are a man, Old West style. You give a damn. Of course, you're in pretty sad shape if your manhood and your team's belief in you or itself depend on what happens when you are hit by a pitch.
3) You might intimidate the pitcher enough that he will be frightened from pitching you inside at all. However, have you ever known that to work, either?
4) It's a catharsis.
None of the above reasons are compelling ones. Whether you're a pacifist or a hawk, I don't see how you could find any benefit to seeing someone you support charge the mound.
Whereas, there are obvious drawbacks:
1) You risk suspension.
2) A third party is more likely to get hurt than the pitcher.
3) It's morally wrong.
That's right. It doesn't matter how intentional a hit-by-pitch is. A pitcher could throw a fastball at your head with a note taped to it, flapping in the fastball breeze, that says, "Let the record show that I'm doing this on purpose." It would still be wrong to charge the mound.
Baseball isn't the frontier. There are officers and judges. They are called umpires and Bob Watson. And however much or little you respect their opinions, by becoming a Major League baseball player, you have agreed to abide by them. They are in charge. They are the law.
We have all felt rage and pain. We can all remember times when the feeling of our blood boiling has been much more reality than metaphor to us. We can in fact imagine how it would have felt to be as ferociously angry as Mike Piazza. But we can also all imagine how to deal with that anger.
Self-defense is one thing when you're on your own, but vigilantism has no place in a supervised arena, whether it's in the bleachers when someone spills beer on you, or on the field when someone tries to spill your brains. Not even a victim should be above the law. It's up to the people in charge to administer punishment.
As we head into the Mike Piazza-Guillermo Mota reuinion, it seems clear that no one really wants a fight, other than that segment of baseball fans who are somehow willing to pay $49.95 to watch that sham of a sport, professional boxing. Regardless, it's a good time for people, on the field and off, to really evaluate charging the mound. It makes no sense on any level, logically or emotionally.
Let's grow up.
A Quick One
Just to wrap up Sunday's game ...
--Kevin Brown peaked at 95 mph in the first inning, and hit that mark again in the eighth.
--Brown fielded four ground balls with his bare hand Sunday.
--No matter what you think of Cesar Izturis, Alex Cora is not enough of a threat that you should walk him intentionally to escape a jam, as the Pirates did in the seventh inning.
Fast Up, You Move Too Slow
Only 206 pitches were needed by both teams to get through Sunday's 115-minute game. However, the game would have been over even sooner, and Eric Gagne would still be unscored upon in 2003, if evidence of Shawn Green's disappearing speed didn't continue to materialize.
Green trudged in pursuit of, but could not reach, Jason Kendall's high foul ball on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the ninth. Kendall then walked and later scored the run off Gagne.
Among major-league right-fielders, Green is 18th in range factor ([putouts plus assists] divided by innings) and 14th in zone rating (the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.).
It's true that Dave Roberts and Brian Jordan are about as low or lower than Green in these statistics. The Dodger pitchers just aren't allowing a lot of fly balls to the outfield - they have the second-highest ratio of grounders-to-flies allowed (1.67:1) in the majors. So that partially mitigates Green's poor fielding stats.
Put it this way - when I watch Green run, visions of Eric Karros leap to mind. Green runs like he can't keep up with the treadmill.
And by the way, Green still has not stolen a base since September 11, 2002.
When the Dodgers replace Fred McGriff, they will need to do it with an outfielder. The only speed left in Green's game is how quickly he's becoming inadequate in his current position.
P.S.: Don't feel blue about the Dodgers passing on Cliff Floyd, though. Floyd has an OPS of .798 and will be bothered by Achilles' tendon trouble all season, it appears. Floyd's still performing better than McGriff (.704 OPS), but not by enough to justify his salary.
Late and Great
Having written extensively Sunday about fans leaving early, I have to add one important twist that has come this season.
Word is spreading about the Dodger dominance in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, which I first reported April 18.
Here is the Dodgers score-by-innings after 32 games, or 20 percent of the season:
Opponents ...15 11 13...14 14 11...07 02 04...02 01 03...00 - 097
That's 55-13 in favor of the Dodgers in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The team is getting killed before and after that triptych, but you really can't walk away from a Dodger game until it's over.
Eric Gagne, of course, explains the Dodgers' ninth-inning dominance, but the team has actually been even better in the eighth inning, in which Gagne has yet to appear. The Dodgers have not allowed an eighth-inning run since April 7.
Here's how it breaks down for the nine pitchers who have been eighth-inningers:
Individually, anyone can put together a few good innings. But collectively, it really is something. In the eighth inning, Dodger opponents are batting .189, with an on-base percentage of .246, a slugging percentage of .255 and an OPS of .501.
And, when he returns from the disabled list, Paul Shuey will be four outs away from an eighth-inning one-hitter.
We Show Up
On Memorial Day 1997, my brother, father and 2 1/2-year-old niece went to the Dodger game. We arrived about 30 minutes early, got our food, listened to the national anthem, and watched the military planes zoom over our heads. At which point my niece turned to her father and said, "Time to go home."
And thus, as Jay Leno, my cousin James the Yankee fan, or pretty much anyone else who watches sports in this country might say, a Dodger fan was born.
Can I have a sense of humor about this, and take it in stride? Sure - almost always do. But can I also take one moment to set the record straight?
Dodger fans don't always leave early and Dodger fans aren't the only fans who leave early - any more than Columbus was the one who discovered America.
Columbus didn't discover America. Everyone knows that.
A Dodger fan. He left earlier.
Not very funny, is it? Now you know how I feel.
Fans leave early everywhere. No city is immune from it - they're just all immune from the jokes. For example, just a week ago, Minnesota Timberwolves fans poured out of their arena throughout the fourth quarter of their loss to the Lakers in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff. No one made fun of those fans. But the fact that they did this in a playoff game, in the biggest game in the team's history, in a sport where big comebacks happen as frequently as cell phones ringing in movie theaters, indicates to me that they must not be above taking an early departure in other situations.
I'm not trying to single out Minneapolis - it happens everywhere.
Second of all, does any group of fans come out to see their team like Dodger fans? Even though the team hasn't won a playoff game in 14 1/2 years, their worst year of attendance has been 2.3 million - in the 1994 strike season. In every year since the Dodgers' last playoff appearance in 1996, attendance has remained above 3 million.
Yes, there is a big metropolis around Dodger Stadium. But that cuts both ways. You can't discount the 40,000 people that show up on average for every game, and then harp on the number that leave - even if that number were 50 percent (which it isn't). How many teams have 20,000 fans that stay from beginning to end?
Dodger fans go to a lot of games. I've gone to as many as 71 games in a season. I think some of us have earned the right to leave a one-sided game or a long, drawn-out one every so often.
Also, people across the country often raise an eyebrow when Dodger fans use the excuse of having to beat the traffic. I raise an eyebrow too, sometimes. That's a lot of raised eyebrows. (By the way, nobody raised an eyebrow better than John Belushi.)
Of the 30 cities represented by major-league teams, I've driven a car in 24 of them. In every city, there has been some traffic. I lived in Washington D.C. for nearly two years and took the bus or metro whenever I could; the traffic could be horrendous. Studies continue to show, however, that Southern California and Los Angeles have the worst traffic in the country. So why shouldn't that traffic be an excuse?
Do you think we want to spend our time in our cars and not in the ballpark? Of course not. But this is our (parking) lot in life.
Having said all this, I will concede these deficiencies in some Dodger fans:
--They are all too likely to come to a game because of a giveaway, as opposed to the opponent or other baseball-related enticement.
Cousin James will never let me forget that a certain game we attended in 1991, when Dennis Martinez of the Expos and Mike Morgan of the Dodgers were perfect through five innings. Morgan gave up a run in the sixth, but Martinez continued to be perfect. And yet, at the end of each inning, you would see groups of fans leaving the park. Those fans missed seeing a perfect game. Many fans remained, but truly, all of them should have.
There is also the legendary shot of brake lights flashing in the Dodger Stadium parking lot as Kirk Gibson's home run won Game 1 in 1988. Of course, part of the magic of that home run is that no reasonable person could have foreseen it, but I won't attempt to make any other excuses for anyone leaving.
I will say right now that I myself have a rule that dicates when it is okay to leave early. My rule was developed during the 1980s and has been tested almost flawlessly in the years since.
You can leave a game when:
[margin of the lead] - [number of innings remaining] > 4
For example, if the Dodgers or their opponents lead 5-0 in the ninth inning, you can't leave, because five runs minus one inning remaining is not greater than four. But if the lead is 6-0 in the ninth inning, or 12-3 in the sixth, it's okay to leave. I believe that only twice in 21 years of having season tickets to the Dodgers has the rule failed to work the way it should.)
Some people will say that there is no time when it's okay to leave early, but I disagree. Obviously, if you only go to a game in a Dodger blue moon, you might not want to use this rule. But if you go more often, I don't think it's unreasonable to decide that you've seen enough. Everyone has their limit.
Anyway, I'm not asking anyone to nominate me or any other Dodger fans for sainthood. But I do think it's time someone pointed out that the idea that people who go to Dodger games should be the butt of the joke about lousy fans...this idea is ludicrous.
Friends, let's not generalize. Let's not live in a world of stereotypes. Let's be sensitive. Or, let's at least come up with some cleverer jokes.
If This Had Been an Actual Emergency ...
Over the past two days, reader Ro'ee Levy from Israel and I have been having an e-mail discussion concerning that old can of soup in our basement bomb shelter, Andy Ashby.
The roster issue becomes more pressing because it looks like Paul Shuey will be able to come off the disabled list on time, meaning that the Dodgers could soon be back to a 12-man pitching staff when, as Levy points out, they've really only been using 10.
The Dodgers haven't used Ashby since April 19. I personally think the Dodgers shouldn't give up on him yet. He only played in 4 games and as Jim Tracy said he has been put in somewhat of an unfair situation: turning him from a starter to a reliever and being used with the game on the line in extra innings in his second and third appearances.
On the other hand he also pitched poorly in spring training so maybe age affected him and he lost his talent.
My point is that the Dodgers should make a decision: Either give him another shot and let him play or release him even though he is owed a lot of money.
It is unlike Tracy to waste a roster spot, which is what's currently happening.
My response was:
--I'm sure the Dodgers would be thrilled to trade Ashby, but no one will pick up that contract until the trading deadline this summer, if even then. If the Dodgers decided to trade Beltre - which I'd be against, unless they were blown away - then you could perhaps include Ashby in a package.
--I don't think it's unfair to expect a veteran, even if he's always been a starter, to be able to pitch with the game on the line. That doesn't mean I expect him to be perfect, but it's not a free pass to give up runs every time out, either. Ashby has been ineffective in almost every appearance, relieving and starting - although he did have one amazing six-pitch inning against the Giants. Overall, there-s no reason to think right now that he isn't the 12th-best pitcher on the team, and should only be used as a last resort, as he has been so far.
--I think the Dodgers should be willing to eat his contact if it were keeping someone great off the team. But the fact is, the Dodgers don't really have 25 good major leaguers in the entire organization. If you can't trade Ashby, who do you replace him with? Larry Barnes? Wilson Alvarez? It's not that these people have no value, but there's no reason to think that their presence would help the Dodgers any more than Ashby or Ron Coomer or Jason Romano do - which is not at all.
--In short, there may or may not be value in keeping Ashby right now - but I'm pretty sure there's no value in releasing him. I don't know that there is a decision to be made right now.
In my latest e-mail from Levy, there was this:
I thought about your answer and I agree with the first two points you made: I also wouldn't want the Dodgers to trade Ashby if it involved trading Adrian Beltre (yet), and the fact that Ashby was used in extra innings isn't really an excuse for his performance.
But I disagree that there is no value in releasing Ashby (or at least letting him pitch):
One of the things Tracy has done so well with the Dodgers is use the whole roster. This season started with a 12-man pitching staff; the Dodgers are currently using 10. So far the bullpen has done an amazing job (I don't think Tracy has gotten enough credit for this; one of the reasons for the success of the bullpen was Tracy knowing when to replace pitchers and who to replace them with), but if the Dodgers will continue playing with only 10 pitchers, they might overuse some of them. So I think the Dodgers should give Ashby more playing time even if the main purpose is resting another pitcher, or they can call Alvarez or some other pitcher from the minors to give him a shot.
Another option is waiting for Shuey to return and then calling up one of the position players instead of Ashby. You might be right, these players might not help the Dodgers, but I think it's worth checking out. Maybe one of them will surprise the Dodgers and help the offense a bit. I think that with the way he's playing now, Bubby Crosby deserves a chance, but they can also call up Barnes or some other player.
Levy has me, at a minimum, questioning the wisdom of having 12 pitchers on the roster. Again, if there were a potential impact hitter in the organization, then by all means bring him up and dump a pitcher. Or, if you want to give Joe Thurston some more major league experience and spot him in the lineup, then bring him up (not that Thurston's current Las Vegas numbers inspire much hope.)
However, there is no such impact hitter. So my thinking remains that if the Dodger pitching is a strength and the hitting is a weakness, then play to the strength. If your last hitter is going to have an OPS of .400, then why bother keeping him - Darren Dreifort could produce those numbers at the plate. Whereas, keeping a 12th pitcher will give you a great advantage when a pitcher has a minor injury, like Odalis Perez did with his ankle, as well as in games that require numerous pitching changes. The Dodgers haven't had many games like that recently, but as we saw in the opening two weeks, they do come in spurts. Levy is concerned about the 10 top relievers being overworked - the fact is, they aren't overworked at all right now - with Perez throwing 132 pitches, they can barely get in a game. But that could all change rapidly.
In other words, I do not agree that Tracy is wasting a roster spot. I think the Dodgers could play this whole season with 24 players and have virtually the same record.
If you accept that thinking, who should that 12th pitcher be? Ashby or someone else?
Frankly, I'm still not convinced that, as bad as he's been, Ashby couldn't do better in the starting rotation than Kaz Ishii, and Ishii couldn't do better in the bullpen than Ashby. Admittedly, conditions were awful last night, but Ishii remains so inconsistent, I'm not sure why he isn't on the bubble. Perhaps someday, he will be.
Furthermore, I think Ashby should stay because, with pitchers like Alvarez and Steve Colyer able be stashed in the minor leagues, there is additional flexibility in keeping them there. Perhaps someday, the trade opportunity will open that allows us to get some hitting help, and we'll want to have the extra pitchers.
Ultimately, as I discussed at the end of Spring Training during the frenzy over Coomer, Thurston, Terry Shumpert and the like, the 25th man on the roster really just isn't that important - especially in an organization lacking in hitting depth. So while I still feel that the Dodgers should keep Ashby when Shuey comes off the disabled list, I won't have any strong feelings about any decision they make in that spot.
Perhaps you're wondering why I would spend so much time talking about a topic that I don't feel is that important. Well, even if it's not critical for the present, it is relevant to the future. And sometimes, we need to just work these things through.
Cora becomes Kora
Alex Cora passed Paul Lo Duca for the longest streak of plate appearances without a strikeout this season. Cora's streak was halted at 36 in the first inning Thursday night. He then struck out again in the third.
In his expression of amazement at the Raul Mondesi turnaround (eighth in baseball with a 1.093 OPS), Steven Goldman and his Pinstriped Bible ask a reasonable question:
...cut us some slack here; who knew that working with Reggie Jackson, a guy who struck out 2,597 times, would turn Mondesi into a high-average hitter?
Because I wrote about it Thursday and he was asked about it today, allow me to print this excerpt from Rob Neyer's ESPN.com chat:
Bob Hope, Maryland: Can you explain the prospective value of Pythagoran record. I can understand how it may explain whether a team has been lucky or unlucky in the games it has played, but is there really any evidence that it can predict future performance?
Rob Neyer: (1:07 PM ET) There's not only "any" evidence, there's plenty of evidence. A team's Pythagorean record predicts future performance than does its actual record. So Braves fans, don't get too excited just yet.
This morning, the Dodgers remain tied with the Giants for first place in the NL West Pythagorean Standings.
For those of you who are Baseball Prospectus subscribers, Clay Davenport takes this approach even further, incorporating such items as strength of schedule. Davenport determines that so far, the Giants have been "the luckiest" team in baseball - and if baseball were played by the numbers, they would be tied for third place with Arizona, a hair behind Colorado and the Dodgers. Frankly, it's a virtual four-way tie.
Of course, this doesn't mean that baseball is in fact played by the numbers, nor that luck can't be the residue of design (as Branch Rickey would say). But it may mean that the pennant race could be more interesting than you might fear.
Maybe it's global warming. Or more to the point, local warming. But after a month this season, offense is higher in Dodger home games than it is in road games.
.733...Dodger batters' OPS at home
.670...Dodger pitchers' OPS allowed at home
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Dodger Stadium has been a ballpark that has favored pitchers over hitters every year of its existence. Last year, for example, Dodger Stadium's park factor was 91, on a scale where anything below 100 favors pitchers and anything above 100 favors hitters.
In 2003, the Dodgers have played games in the following cities:
On the road, as one would expect, the Dodgers have scored amply in hitters' parks, amplessly in pitchers' parks. Their only above-average production in a pitchers' park has been at home, which makes sense if you believe in the home-cooking theory.
Dodger pitchers, on the other hand, have not followed the pattern. They have been average at home, effective in hitters' parks like Pittsburgh and Arizona, and average-to-below-average in pitchers' parks like San Diego and San Francisco (two opponents with a vast gap in talent, I might add).
Is it merely low sample size that is the cause of the contrarian behavior of the Dodger pitching staff? Maybe. Consider this, then. If the Dodger pitchers revert to form on the road, it could bode well for the team:
4.2...average margin of victory in Dodger wins in road hitters' parks
The Dodgers have considerable runs to spare in hitters' parks on the road. But in pitchers' parks on the road, the Dodgers are losing by a narrower margin.
It's just a theory, perhaps based on insufficient evidence, but we may see more improvement in the Dodgers' .438 road record than we'll see decline in their .538 home record.
With the victory, the Dodgers actually went into first place in the NL West Pythagorean Standings (scroll to the bottom of Rob's page).
This is an indicator that the Giants have gotten more wins out of their run-scoring and run-preventing ability than they could have expected, while the Dodgers have gotten less. At -3, no team is underperforming by this method worse than the Dodgers are. At +4, no team is overperforming like the Giants.
This may mean that the Dodgers and Giants are closer than the real standings indicate. Or, it just may mean that the Dodgers are wasteful of opportunities, with no indication that things will change. Or both.
Up in Arms
Odalis Perez threw 93 strikes Wednesday night. Not 93 pitches. Strikes.
In all, he threw 132 pitches before being removed with two out and two on in a 4-0 game.
Pitch counts have been a fevered topic, even more so than usual, in the blog and Under the Knife worlds of late - the latest flashpoint being the simultaneously devastating and predictable injury to Florida's A.J. Burnett.
The latest nuance, led by Under the Knife's Will Carroll, certainly through his own quest of knowledge but also in de facto response to the complaint that x number of pitches for one guy doesn't mean the same as x for another, is to evaluate how much a pitcher's velocity is dropping and use that as a danger signal.
I didn't keep track of Perez' velocity in the beginning of the game, but here is what I observed. Perhaps this will provide some useful background for Carroll, Aaron Gleeman, Christian Ruzich or any of the others that are paying close attention to this topic.
He had only 71 pitches through six innings, but zoomed up to 114 through eight. I was pretty sure that Jim Tracy would remove Perez at that point. Eric Gagne hadn't pitched since Saturday, so there was no reason not to bring him in - unless you're a slave to individual save and shutout statistics and are determined to come away with one or the other. And, as I later found out from the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Perez had "felt some arm stiffness" Tuesday.
Tracy did let Perez bat in the bottom of the eighth, but in a sacrifice situation - nothing wrong with that. (Perez ended up hitting into a double play, which he didn't run out - not that anyone needs to dock him in that situation.)
But to my surprise, Tracy let Perez face Mike Lieberthal, who singled sharply, then Jim Thome, who hit a sharp foul before striking out. Perez's motion seemed labored to me, although perhaps that was fear talking to me. But then Perez also struck out Pat Burrell - on a bitter 91-mile-per-hour fastball - and nearly got Tomas Perez on a comebacker that grazed his glove before going into center field.
Vin, showing that he's a few years behind the times but not 40, was clearly surprised that Tracy was letting Odalis stay in so long, "in this age of ..." and for a minute I thought he was going to say concern about pitch counts, but instead he said, "...the closer." (You know I criticize constructively and with love, Vin.)
Finally, Tracy came out to make the switch. The fans booed him - and not, I suspect, because they thought Tracy had taken too long to come out. Perez clearly wanted to stay in. He listened as Tracy spoke to him on the mound, but did not look at him. I have no way of knowing whether Perez was upset with Tracy or not. In the dugout, you could see Perez showing Manny Mota how close he came to fielding the ball hit by Tomas Perez, so perhaps that was his chief frustration. The morning papers quote Odalis as understanding the decision.
So what's the verdict? I don't have enough evidence to convict of abuse, but I do have enough to prosecute for negligence. Was there any reason to let Perez even appear in the ninth inning after 114 pitches? Even if the risk of injury was 1 percent, was there any worthwhile reward at all?
Tracy did the same thing with Perez last year - almost exactly a year ago. Perez through 129 pitches in a complete-game, five-hit, 5-2 victory over Colorado at Coors Field. The bullpen was rested - the previous day, Jesse Orosco threw six pitches and Giovanni Carrara threw 11. I can distinctly remember my shock that Perez went all the way in that game.
As it happens, Perez was superb for more than a month following this game:
4/20/02...8.2 innings...1 run...116 pitches
As you can see, after the workhorse game, Tracy tightened his leash on Perez (or Perez pitched so well, he tightened it on himself). Perhaps on Wednesday night, Tracy was seeking a reward via deja vu.
On the other hand, in Thursday's Times, beneath the noteworthy headline ...
Tracy Plays It Safe With Perez
Tracy indicated that he does worry about pitch counts - just later than some of us.
"...I have a player and an organization to protect," Tracy said. "I gave him every opportunity to finish the game, but if I let him throw 140 pitches and then find out he's not available in June, July or August, you'd feel a little different. It's the first month of the season, and he was extended out there pretty good."
It would be interesting to know why Tracy's magic number is in the 130-140 pitch range, and not 120-130 or 110-120. Honestly, he might have a good reason, but someone should at least ask him.
Like I said, I'll leave it to time and the more intelligent to pass judgment on Wednesday night. But I don't know how, in the age of ... Tommy John surgery, you can't worry about what happened at Dodger Stadium last night. It was a great win, but a scary one.
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