Monthly archives: February 2005
Plaschke, Ind - Indubitably
Wow. For anyone - forget whom for a moment - to do this amazes me. Head is still shaking back and forth. How would one respond?
As someone told me today, "Rehab is for quitters."
McCourt Makes a Concession
Public introspection from Frank McCourt. Who saw this coming?
From MLB.com, once more with feeling:
"We need to do a better job communicating with our fans and letting them know what our thinking is and what we're doing," he said. "The choices we made were in the best interests in the short and long term, but we could have done a better job bringing the fans with us. It's part of the learning process and I take responsibility."
And, in the same article, tangential introspection from Jeff Kent:
"As old as I am [37 next week], I had the jitters," said Kent, who will bat cleanup. "I'm excited to be here and I'm trying to make friends and make a good impression. I want them to know, even though I've got a locker stuck in the corner, it doesn't mean I shouldn't be talked to."
Eric Gagne sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee playing pepper and will have an MRI on Friday, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.
While we use the cautious optimism that the injury is not severe to soothe us ...
Trainer Stan Johnston said even a mild sprain would take six weeks to heal 100 percent, but depending on MRI results Gagne's baseball activity might only be limited for "maybe a week." Gagne was examined by Dr. David Schafer, a fellow at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic.
... anyone else impressed that in major leaguers are playing pepper in the 21st century? I guess that's what happens when you don't have those "No Pepper" signs around anymore.
(That last sentence will sort out the young from the old.)
Why Nakamura Is Stuck
This Associated Press story explains the visa problems that have prevented Norihiro Nakamura from reporting to Vero Beach:
While players with major league contracts are eligible for P-1 visas, the category that includes internationally recognized athletes, those with minor league contracts must obtain an H-2B visa from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
USCIS announced on Jan. 3 that the H-2B cap of 66,000 visas in this fiscal year, a figure established by Congress, had been reached and no more visas in that category were available.
Presumably, they will figure out how to work around this, but no indication is given of the mechanics that will involve. Perhaps someone else can shed more insight. (No, I'm not making the phone call.)
Sign On, Harvest Moon
Jim Colborn, the Dodgers' multilingual pitching coach, was addressing his flock the other day when he caught the eye of Ryan Ketchner across the clubhouse.
Colborn and Ketchner had yet to meet, but the coach knew what he needed to know. He stopped talking, but suddenly spoke unexpected volumes. Using sign language he learned while growing up with a deaf best friend, Colborn spelled out: "Hi Ryan. My name is Jim, the ace pitching coach."
"That was awesome," said Ketchner, who was born virtually deaf. "It will be cool when I get to the Major Leagues. He doesn't have to come to the mound. He can communicate to me from the dugout with signs."
Is Colborn sort of like baseball's MacGyver? He just seems to pull these tricks - language tricks, anyway - out of nowhere. And you have to love how Colborn calls himself "ace pitching coach" - in sign language, no less. It's all about the details.
Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta acquired Ketchner, a 22-year-old lefty, at the end of Spring Training last year in exchange for Jolbert Cabrera. Ketchner averaged more than a strikeout per inning in the minors from 2000-2003, with excellent control. Once he recovers from elbow surgery, Ketchner will be trying to become the majors' first deaf pitcher in nearly a century, Gurnick writes.
Two kids want to play center field.
The parents will choose.
The kid who isn't chosen will adjust. Because deep down, they're both good kids.
It's not a big deal.
Headlines like this ...
Again at Center of Controversy
... are sensationalistic.
DePodesta Chat Chat
Can you believe I forgot about this? Dodger Thoughts reader BigCPA reminded me. Read Paul DePodesta's response to Big's question about Joel Guzman, and more ...
Earliest piece of news: touting Buddy Carlyle, Ryan Rupe, and Scott Erickson as starting pitching prospects if someone goes down. For the most part, this chat reads like public relations more than anything probing. Few hard questions or hard answers.
Update: It's a lefthander's perogative to change his mind. Wilson Alvarez is angling to start again, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.
Meanwhile, people continue to fall in love with Erickson. Dodger pitching coach Jim Colburn is the latest swooning.
"I can tell [Erickson] is 100 percent committed. He came ready," Colborn told Gurnick. "His intensity is high and that speaks volumes about his desire. He's primed and ready to go."
Ten Stories Here, A Thousand There
Here comes the stuff I like. Spring Training. Back out on the field with stories of hopeful rebirth. Let's get out on some freshly mown grass, close our eyes, lean back, feel the morning sun on our faces and breathe again.
Certainly thought I'd be the first on All-Baseball.com to write that Ozzie Smith's son was one of the final 24 on American Idol (the resemblance is there). Since I'm not, here is a small sampling from the thousands of stories going around baseball at the approach of March.
In Texas, Astacio is reunited with Chan Ho Park and Orel Hershiser, who were teammates of his during his time with the Dodgers (1992-97). Park is trying to remain in the Rangers rotation and Hershiser is now Rangers pitching coach.
"Chan Ho is my buddy and I have so much respect for Orel," Astacio said. "I feel like this is the second time Orel is my pitching coach. He was always helping me with the Dodgers. This is a great situation for me."
Nen, 35, amassed 314 career saves, 13th on the all-time list, and made three All-Star teams. He was still at the peak of his powers midway through the '02 season when he decided to continue pitching despite a rotator-cuff injury that the training staff privately told him at the time was career-threatening.
The Giants made it to the World Series that year, thanks in part to seven postseason saves by Nen, before losing to the Anaheim Angels. Nen has yet to throw a big-league pitch since, enduring a frustrating comeback effort that several times has allowed him to sustain a 90 mph fastball, if only for a day.
On Jan. 23, shortly after beginning her ninth month of pregnancy, Finley's wife was hit in the face by a line drive while attending her son's Little League game in Del Mar, Calif.
Amy Finley suffered a broken nose, but when doctors couldn't stem the bleeding, they were forced to induce labor, some 3 1/2 weeks before her due date. Amy gave birth to a daughter, Sophia, on Jan. 26 <97> the same day Steve Finley's 61-year-old father, Howard, underwent quadruple bypass surgery in Kentucky.
"That's not a three weeks I'd wish on anybody," said Finley, the former Dodger who signed a two-year, $14-million deal with the Angels in December. "It was scary because I was worried about my wife and the baby. Then, the day after she got hit, we found out my dad needed open-heart surgery."
Amy Finley was hospitalized for 10 days and still suffers from fatigue and light nosebleeds, but the baby is fine. Howard Finley's recovery is going well.
I know the conventional wisdom is that you're not supposed to make excuses, but sometimes I'd like to hear them. I'd rather know that Odalis Perez is hurting mentally, or Shawn Green or Hideo Nomo is hurting physically.
... there is one challenge in her life that she doesn't see as a competition, a puzzle that she may never finish: getting to know her late father, former major leaguer Alan Wiggins. At 32 and with a history of drug abuse, he died from complications of AIDS on Jan. 6, 1991 -- a month shy of Candice's fourth birthday. "I feel I know him so well, yet I don't really have any idea who he was," says Wiggins. "It's sort of a life quest, to get as much of a picture of him as I can."
How serious some of these stories are. Don't be surprised to hear this from me, but I'm invested - although I lean heavily on statistics in player analysis, my personal attachment to the game is very much involved in the backstories of the players ...
It<92>s all about backstories. The Pedros have backstories. Kevin Brown has a backstory. Hiram Bocachica has a backstory. Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth - all-time backstories. All the teams, from the Dodgers to the Devil Rays to the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, have backstories. The sport as a whole has its own collective backstory. And then, when these actors take the field - either at the ballpark in front of you, or on television, or in a book or newspaper clipping, you have all this set-up to appreciate the significance of everything they do.Yes, the ballplayers make more money and probably have less trouble getting a date than most of us, but they still dream and hurt and grieve and hope. If talent in sport gives these players encourages us to pay an undue amount of attention, at least sometimes we know it isn't wasted.
The good news is, we've already had the best story of all this spring: After five months, Detroit pitcher Ugueth Urbina's mother was recently rescued from her kidnappers.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, Tampa Tribune, MLB.com, The Associated Press, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Sports Illustrated
The Highs of Lowe
Had to get that headline out of the way. ... Anyway, two new pieces give thumbs up to the Dodgers' acquisition of Derek Lowe.
One, by the talented Fourth Outfielder you love seeing in the lineup, Tom Meagher, comes at the end of an exhaustive analysis for The Hardball Times of Dodger Stadium park effects. Remember when they used to call these Gleeman-length pieces? I think the torch has been passed.
Meagher also writes that the addition of new seats along the Dodger Stadium foul lines is not likely to have much of an effect on its pitchers' park status:
Using my normalization model, I found that Dodger Stadium would have a park factor of about .92 if there were no foul outs recorded whatsoever. That<92>s clearly a figure in need of salt, as I imagine having no foul ground would impact the pitcher-batter confrontation in other ways. What that really measures is what things would look like if every foul ball was dropped.
Lowe has spent the bulk of his time being a 2.65 ERA pitcher <97> which is tremendous and worthy of the Cy Young award consideration. He has done this in a superior offensive league with the DH, and he has often done it without a good infield defense.
Now Lowe is going to a pitcher<92>s park, with a shortstop (Cesar Izturis) that has a favorable UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), along with a second sacker (Jeff Kent) that is slightly above average in UZR according to TangoTiger<92>s weighted analysis. That is a sweet recipe for Lowe. Pencil him in for 21-7 this year, with a 3.06 ERA, and I think I am being conservative.
In a sense, coming to the Dodgers will reduce the chances of Bad Lowe appearing. That's the theory, anyway.
And now, for some gossip ... there's this.
Invasion of the Blogger Snatchers
Beat writers with blogs. Life just got more interesting.
On the plus side, the more information the merrier, especially if it's entertaining and informative, as this new blog by Cincinnati Reds beat writer Marc Lancaster of the Cincinnati Post might turn out to be. (News learned from The Red Reporter via Baseball Musings.)
Lancaster's doesn't figure to be the last beat writer blog we see. Rather, it's probably a sign of something that has become inevitable as blogs evolve from a medium derided to a medium respected. (Heck - bloggers might even get to go to jail for concealing a source, just like grownups.)
Like Blockbuster aping Netflix, the big boys have discovered value in what the little guy is doing.
With the access and time available to them, unconstrained by space limits in the printed version of the paper, beat writers with blogs can produce some good stuff. It won't change the world, but two paragraphs of Lancaster's entry today illustrated the potential.
Healthy position players don't have to report until Monday, but Adam Dunn strolled through the door this morning. Not long after, Dunn expressed mock dismay that in the brief time he'd been in camp he'd seen Graves run on a treadmill, then go play catch with Eric Milton.
"They said I was fat," said Graves. "And fat guys can't get people out ..."
If people like Lancaster combine insider anecdotes with any amount of thoughtful analysis, their blogs will be huge hits.
Newspaper blogging will make it harder for those on the outside. Potential new readers will discover the newspaper blogs first, providing them the extra sustenance that independent bloggers otherwise could have. That makes it more difficult for outsiders to grow an audience. That in turn will slow the progress for those hoping that blogging will cease to be a largely volunteer endeavor.
Right now, independent bloggers blog for the love of it. And readers read for the worth of it - no one reads out of charity or pity. There is value in the outside perspective, away from the newspaper confines, as long as that independence isn't abused. And there is value in being experienced with blogging, which after all is a unique medium with its own idiosyncrasies to master.
But if blogging has been a new frontier of communication, staked out at first by individuals on foot, look out - because here come the big covered wagons. Bloggers are going to have to work ever harder to hold on to their claims.
Update: Mark Cuban - that's right, Mark Cuban - writes that it's in the establishment's Machiavellian interest to credential bloggers. Keep your enemies closer and all that. Thanks to Will Carroll for pointing it out.
Letting the Air Out of the Puck
Like poets commissioned to write a series of odes to a flat tire, the Times headline writers braved the ongoing stalemate between National Hockey League owners and players.
Talk about creating a show about nothing:
February 4: NHL Labor Talks to Continue
That's a sad story. My condolences to the hockey community. Hooray for Spring Training ... you can't take playing ball for granted these days.
Not that Valentin has been greeted with any kind of excitement. In fact, the most favorable reactions have ranged from cautious optimism about him as a platoon player to simple tepidity. But the acid rain that fell on Choi for his two months of .531 OPS (against a career average of .785, an average that has risen each year of his short career) has missed scarring Valentin.
The 35-year-old shortstop, in fact, has a career OPS (.773) lower than Choi's and tracking downward each of the past four seasons. In particular, Valentin had a post-All Star Game OPS in 2004 of .618 that, amazingly, virtually matched the much-derided Choi's (.616) - if it wasn't worse, given the park factors involved.
A left-handed hitter, Valentin performed better against right-handed pitchers in 2004 (.801 OPS vs. righties, .666 vs. lefties), a difference that is even more profound if you include the past three years (.838/.530). The same logic that tells you it rained because you washed your car might lead you to believe that Valentin's second-half decline in 2004 came because his team, the Chicago White Sox, overplayed him against left-handed pitchers.
Sadly, that's not the case. Here are Valentin's statistics from July 1, 2004 through the end of the season:
Vs. AB Hits 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS RHP 153 24 3 7 13 15 44 .157 .244 .314 .558 LHP 75 13 3 6 12 6 27 .173 .234 .453 .687 Total 228 37 6 13 25 21 71 .162 .241 .360 .601(Thanks to David Pinto of Baseball Musings for helping me get these figures. A blurb by Brendan Roberts at The Sporting News.com triggered my inquiry.)
Valentin was awful every which way - particularly so against right-handed pitching, which the Dodgers are counting on him to face at least at the outset of the 2005 campaign.
As with Choi, you must always take sample size into account while judging a player. On the other hand, Valentin's second-half features more at-bats than Choi had, and it comes attached to a player who has been declining for most of the century.
Perhaps with a fresh start, Valentin will rebound. Or, perhaps he is the hitter's Derek Lowe - someone that general manager Paul DePodesta has figured will take unique advantage of Dodger Stadium. But at a minimum - and some will take this as faint praise, indeed - it's hard to understand why anyone would fret more about Choi than Valentin. If Antonio Perez or Norihiro Nakamura can't pick up the slackity slack, the Dodgers might have a bigger offensive gap at third base than they even appear to have at catcher. Certainly, the Dodgers appear better off at first base than they do at third.
Scoping the San Diego Rotation
Last season, while many in the national press excorciated the Dodgers for their midseason moves during the pennant race, sportswriters tended to ignore the Padres' trade deadline performance.
Among other issues, San Diego No. 5 starters won zero games in the season's final two months after the team traded Ismael Valdez to Florida. Certainly, that made a difference as the Padres finished six games behind the National League West champion Dodgers.
Heading into 2005, San Diego may boast a Cy Young candidate, but do the Padres have enough to fill out their rotation?
San Diego's Top Seven:
Jake Peavy: Giants fans have reason to be excited about their 24-year-old prospect, Noah Lowry, who pitched 92 above-average innings last season. Padre patriots in Petco proper can truly drool over Peavy, who turns 24 in May. In a season marred only by a stay on the disabled list, from which he emerged in fine form, Peavy won the NL ERA title at 2.27, striking out more than a batter per inning. Questions: Can he continue to prevent the ball from leaving the park? From 2003-2004, he cut his home runs allowed per inning in half. And what kind of regression might Peavy be headed for considering that his dERA (his park- and defense-adjusted ERA) was a full run higher than his actual ERA, as Jacob Luft posted on SI.com. Answers: Even if Peavy falters, the division might still not have a better pitcher.
Woody Williams: Has this guy had an underrated career? A 28th-round draft pick in 1988, he didn't reach the majors until age 26, but then posted an ERA+ of 99 or better (with 100 as the league average) in all 12 of his seasons. After missing about half the season in 2002, he threw 220 2/3 innings in 2003 and 189 2/3 innings in 2003 (for St. Louis). At age 38, his 2004 strikeout rate was better than any Padre starter except Peavy. And he's a career .213 hitter. And he only makes $3.5 million (plus incentives) in 2005. And yet, having given Williams due credit, with all that going for him, Williams has only been average or a sliver better in three of his past four seasons. A solid addition - but perhaps nothing more.
Brian Lawrence: Lawrence has pitched more than 200 innings each of the past three seasons - but with an ERA of 4.00 over that time, they've been more utilitaran than exceptional. Not that, in this era, utilitarian doesn't have value. He turns 29 in May.
Adam Eaton: Eaton went 4-1 with a 2.87 ERA against the Dodgers last season, so you people of Los Angeles are forgiven for cowering in his presence. Overall, Eaton's ERA was 4.61 - his fourth consecutive season worse than the league average. Eaton is 27 and approaching the point where his potential for greatness is expiring - average is a more reasonable goal. His top comparison in baseball history, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is former obscure Dodger Mike Harkey (now a Padres minor league pitching coach). He does have 10 doubles and two home runs as a batter in the past two seasons.
Darrell May: Luft speculates that May's move from Kansas City to San Diego will make him better by reducing his rate of home runs allowed (69 in his last 396 innings). The 32-year-old May's career year came in 2003, when he pitched 210 innings with an ERA+ of 135. Last season, his ERA+ dropped to 79. Luft might be correct, but it's a dicey gamble that may see the Padres turn to the minors by summertime.
Justin Germano: Only 22, Germano got an 8.86 ERA sandblasting in seven appearances (five starts) with the Padres in 2004. But his 3.38 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 122 2/3 innings with AAA Portland keep him in the loop as first alternate.
Chris Oxspring: A 27-year-old Australian, Oxspring has yet to make his MLB debut but has struck out 210 batters in 222 innings over the past two seasons, including 17 starts at Portland in 2004 with a 3.99 ERA.
San Diego enters the season with fewer question marks in its starting rotation than the Dodgers, but one about potential. Best-case scenario is that Peavy wins the Cy Young while his four colleagues churn collectively at a little better than average. Alternatively, the Padres could struggle if the back end of the rotation starts slowly and they are slow to react.
San Diego will need three starts from its No. 5 spot in April. Things will be looking good for the Padres if May wins before May. But just like Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Diego has reasons to hold its breath regarding its starting pitching, too.
Pre-Spring Training Open Chat Revisited
Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta is holding a chat on MLB.com at 12 noon. Deconstruct it at your leisure here.
Oops: As Eric Stephen notes below, I read the date wrong. We'll deconstruct on February 22 - in the meantime, consider this an open chat room.
Here's something: Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun looks at the biggest names likely to return to the AAA 51s, including Chin-Feng Chen and Joe Thurston - the Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly of Match Game Las Vegas.
"My job is to give the guys, the Chin-Feng Chens and the Joe Thurstons, something new to show these people. That's what I'm going to do," Las Vegas manager Jerry Royster told Christensen. "That's why I get excited about being a Triple-A manager. As an instructor the last two years, I had so much fun teaching these kids things to do. Now I'm a manager, I can propel them to the major leagues."
But please: Feel free to talk about anything Dodger- or Match Game-related, not just the 51s.
Previous headlines for this open chat: 1) DePodesta Chat Chat, 2) Strike That - Reverse It, 3) Pre-Spring Training Open Chat, 4) Las Vegas 51s Open Chat
Perez Stops and Shops
While sitting out the Dominican Winter League season to take things easy on his arm, Dodger pitcher Odalis Perez set his sights on how to invest some of his new contract dough, according to Raul Tavares on Dominican Players:
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez wants a new team, but don't think he wants out of L.A. - he wants to buy Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Republic.
According to some reports Odalis is offering US$2.5 million for the team and is seeking advice to get into the baseball business.
Estrellas has not won a championship in almost 40 years. The team is located in San Pedro de Macoris, home of Sammy Sosa, Alfonzo Soriano and former players George Bell and Alfredo Griffin among others.
Odalis is supposed to team with other people from San Pedro de Macoris to buy the team. He plays with Estrellas in the winter, but he did not play this season and stayed practicing and resting his left arm to be in shape for spring training.
For more on 2004 Dodger pitchers and their pursuit of team ownership internationally, please see "Forget Eli Broad - Hereís Hideo Nomo!"
Scoping the San Francisco Rotation
Have you been living in fear of the San Francisco Giants' starting pitching?
The Giants have numbers - at least seven pitchers who, at their best, can make a legitimate claim to start on almost any pitching staff in baseball.
They have a big-time pitcher in Jason Schmidt.
But they also have enough questions about age, health and ability to join the Dodgers in a realm of starting pitcher uncertainty - even if they don't realize it yet up in the Bay Area.
San Francisco's Top Seven:
Jason Schmidt: A workhorse's workhorse who occasionally buckles under the strain - last year's 32 starts were his most since 1999 - the 32-year-old righthander saw his ERA rise nearly a run in 2004 but still struck out a career-high 251 batters. Certainly figures again to be one of the top pitchers in the National League West - but he also figures to miss a few starts as well.
Noah Lowry: Kept the Giants breathing down the Dodgers' neck in 2004 by going undefeated in 16 appearances (14 starts), including two complete games. His ERA+ was 116 and he struck out seven batters per nine innings. A 24-year-old lefthander from Pepperdine, he lines up as the Giants second-best starter and someone who matches up favorably against Odalis Perez if the league doesn't figure Lowry out in his sophomore season.
Brett Tomko: Stunned Dodger fans not by pitching well against Los Angeles last season, but by doing so against other major league baseball teams as well. Had an better-than-average ERA for the first time since his 1997 rookie year - and was even stronger in 2004's second half. After allowing 66 home runs in 2002-03, he allowed 19 last season - fewer than one every 10 innings. Turning 32 in April, Tomko may have finally found himself. But the bet here is, with 64 walks against 108 strikeouts for the year, that he will settle in as the right-handed Kirk Rueter - at least, what Rueter used to be (see below).
Jerome Williams: Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle reports that the righthander has had five pain-free bullpen sessions this year, is healed from his 2004 surgery and has lost 22 pounds since last March. That leaves you with a healthy 23-year-old pitcher with an ERA+ of 116 in 260 career innings. He walks more than three batters per nine innings and strikes out fewer than six - not exactly dominant - but this remains a promising pitcher.
Kirk Rueter: The DIPS (Defense-Independent Pitching Statistics) nemesis may finally be heading for his fadeout after posting a 4.73 ERA in 2004 and 56 strikeouts in 190 1/3 innings. He has had two sub-par ERA seasons in a row and three in the past four. Only his name or injuries to others on the Giants' staff should keep him in the rotation for long. Better than Kazuhisa Ishii? Barely, if at all.
Brad Hennessey: The 25-year-old was in Single A ball at the end of 2003, but had a 3.56 ERA with AA Norwich and a 2.02 ERA with AAA Fresno before making seven starts with San Francisco, in which he allowed 15 baserunners per nine innings and a 4.98 ERA.
Jesse Foppert: Another sub-25 Giants starting candidate, Foppert recovered from Tommy John surgery most of last season, after a below-average 2003 debut. He made nine starts in the minors toward the end of the year, and the Marin Independent-Journal reports that he played winter ball in Puerto Rico as well. Could start the season in the bullpen or AAA.
Put it all together, and San Francisco's strengths are that they have one ace, one young pitcher who appears to have arrived, a veteran of decent quality and a second young propsect on the mend. On the down side, the remaining three candidates are a veteran on the decline and two propspects who may not be ready to excel in 2005.
The Giants will have plenty of arms to throw at the competition in 2005, but it's not the most intimidating group. The main advantage that San Francisco has over the Dodgers is that the health of its rotation is less uncertain. Should Brad Penny recover from his nerve problem, however, you have:
Neither team is be a lock to win more games with its starting pitching than the other.
Coming soon: San Diego's starting rotation
Choi and the Lefties
Skim and you could miss it, but in the middle of Ken Gurnick's Dodger Spring Training preview on MLB.com is the first vote of confidence in the ability of Hee Seop Choi ability to play everyday, as opposed to platooning, that I've seen in a while.
"Maybe people misinterpret our expectations," Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta told Gurnick. "He doesn't need to be spectacular. If he does on a collective basis what he did in 2004 (15 home runs, 46 RBIs), we'll be in great shape. People don't realize he's only 25 and that was his first full Major League season. He gets on base. In the minor leagues, he hit left-handed pitching. We just need to take advantage of what we know he does best."
The comments are particularly interesting in light of the recent signing of Norihiro Nokamura, who with Olmedo Saenz will challenge Choi for at-bats against lefties.
In his entire major-league career, managers have given Choi just over 70 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. He has four singles, two doubles, a home run, 11 walks and three hit-by-pitches, for an OPS of .507, compared to .814 against right-handed pitching.
So this is not to say the other options against lefties won't prove better than Choi, but only that Choi has not been given enough of a chance. Jason Romano, of all people, has as many plate appearances against lefties in his career as Choi. Shouldn't Choi get more of a shot than that?
Choi turns 26 in five weeks.
This Is L.A. Baseball Marketing
Almost a year ago, I addressed the strengths and weaknesses of the 2004 "Bob Bobblehead" campaign:
Itís easy to see how the Dodgers came up with the idea. For a few years now, with no playoff games and few folk heroes for potential consumers to latch onto, the Dodgers have been selling the experience of going to the ballpark. Theyíve been selling the hot dogs and foam fingers, rather than the competition. Theyíve incorporated players like Eric Gagne into the ads, but in a fashion that indicates that itís not whether you win or lose, itís how you attend the game.The new approach isn't completely about passion, though I'm interested in seeing what future television ads convey. It's more about history. But it's about a very special history, one that can't be found anywhere else.
Now, no doubt, the Dodgers would rather have a better left-handed link after Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela than talented but combustible Odalis Perez, but after Eric Gagne (who appears in another ad, I understand), there aren't that many to choose from. At the same time, they can adjust the campaign after the season starts, once hot players emerge and the fans are more acquainted with the many newcomers.
As for the much-discussed aspect of the campaign that it appears designed to counter the Angels' attempts to infiltrate Los Angeles, well ...
The Dodgers say their campaign precedes the Angels' decision to change their team name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. However, we know that the Angels had been thinking of a name change since at least last summer. It's hard to imagine the Dodgers and their ad agency, Dailey & Associates, weren't taking this possibility into account as they plotted their 2005 course.
Even if it were in response to the Angels' name change, why shouldn't it be? While there's certainly room for two teams in the area's largest city/county/region, while conceivably the Angels could even take over Los Angeles in years to come if everything breaks their way, the fact is that L.A. baseball for the past 40 years really has been about the Dodgers. I don't see any reason why the Dodgers should feel bad for asserting this - and I say this as someone much more amused than bothered by the Angels tortured name.
Overall, in contrast to some of the changes we've seen in Dodger Stadium in the past year, this is an ad campaign that has appeal for both the old and new fan. It doesn't sell anyone out. And I like that.
I still think nothing sells baseball like drama. I'm amazed how little team marketers have used great game action over the years. Put together a montage of such moments as a Koufax no-hitter, Rick Monday's home run, Orel Hershiser's 1988 and Gagne closing out a big game, and you've got something nearly irresistable.
Image credit: L.A. Dodgers
Your Semi-Favorite Year
Name your favorite year of Dodger baseball in which the team didn't win a World Series.
I'm going with 1985 - the year of Pedro Guerrero's homer-bashing June, a great team that just missed.
(If you look at Baseball-Reference.com, you'll notice that Guerrero did not lead the Dodgers in games played at any of his five defensive positions in '85 - yet posted an OPS+ of 181. This might have been the greatest utility season of all time - at least if good defense was not required.
Orel Hershiser also had a season that compares more than favorably with his legendary 1988. In 1985, Hershiser went 19-3 with a 2.03 ERA.
Anyway, it's 1985 for me. What about you?
A Worse (If Not Worst) Case Scenario for Miller
Here at the intersection of Optimism Boulevard and Bleaker Street, we bring you further discussion of Wednesday's Baseball America article about Dodger prospect Greg Miller (see Update 3 of this posting). I solicited an opinion from baseball medical expert Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus:
Acromioplasty is a tough diagnosis. I'm not sure how they think this is the problem. Obviously, Frank Jobe knows a lot more than I do, but a bony problem like this is either mechanical - something that he's doing and could be fixed - or congenital like a malformed acromion process. If it's congenital, as this article indicates, Miller would have had problems previous to this under normal workload.
There's almost no track record for comebacks from this injury, but there is one: Jaret Wright. He had the surgery in early 2003, came back mid-year, sucked, and lucked into Atlanta. If I were a Dodger fan, I'd be real worried that nothing came of that vaunted pitching system yet.
Wow - that's pretty bleak. If Jaret Wright is your best-case scenario ... yikes.Carroll's reply:
Done? Well, I would have said Wright was done in '03, but look at him now. I'd say it's in question ...
Just one man's opinion. Use it or lose it. The fact that there is a limited track record for recovery doesn't ensure the end is near. But it's certainly a grimmer interpretation than believing in time and rehab providing a complete cure.
DodgerKid - prone to shun both faith Carroll and in Dodger prospects - what will you do?
Marshall, considered in the early 1980s to be the preeminent Dodger prospect before a solid if not spectacular career analagous to, say ... Tatum O'Neal? Timothy Hutton? Belinda Carlisle? ... has been active in the independent minors since his retirement as a player, according to Hunt. Just turned 45 (can you believe it?), Marshall has been a player-coach with the Schaumburg Flyers, manager-general manager of the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs, and Northern League director of baseball operations.
Following a sale of the team, El Paso left the Texas League in November 2004 after 23 seasons. A history of the Central League can be found here.
Update: Here's a story following the official announcement.
Marshall, who has already hired ex-major league hurler Jack Cusack as his pitching coach, describes independent leagues as "kind of the major leagues of minor leagues."
"It's not about pitch counts and a parent club telling you who has to play and who doesn't," he said. "We're out there to win. And major league teams love independent leagues now, because we do their job for them. Half of them are tapping into independent leagues for replacement talent."
Marshall also said, "I'm very serious, very intense. ... I demand a lot from my players," according to this KFOXTV.com brief.
Baseball America Dodger Prospect Report
Because of time constraints, analysis of the Baseball America report on the Dodgers' Top 10 Prospects will mostly have to give way to an open chat thread. Just try to remember that the rising players on this list are all too young to bank on, and the falling players on this list are all too young to give up on.
Before you rush to point out how few Dodger prospects have made it over the years, remember that times change. At the same time, we have to wait and see, even on the Joel Guzmans of the world who look so good but might take as long as Adrian Beltre to conquer the world, if that's even in the cards.
Just more of your anti-generalizing, glass-is-both-half-empty-and-half-full proselytizing from Dodger Thoughts!
1. Joel Guzman, ss
Best Hitter for Average: Blake DeWitt
(Note: There will be a live chat on the Dodger prospects on Baseball America at 11 a.m.)
Nowhere on the Top 10 is Willy Aybar, whom Baseball Prospectus today hinted was the second-best second-base prospect in baseball. However, some discussion on Baseball Primer contends that the Dodgers' Nos. 11-20 prospects could compete with the top 10 of most other teams. Post No. 19 by "CanuckDodger" lists some names for that second 10: Hu, Scott Elbert, Dunlap, Dioner Navarro, Yhency Brazoban (still qualifies as a rookie with only 32 2/3 innings in his career), Delwyn Young, Aybar, Kemp, Julio Pimentel, Joel Hanrahan.
Honestly, if the Dodgers can't get a star or two out of that group of 20, either through performance or through trade ...
Update: Bad news, good news on Greg Miller, according to BA's Alan Matthews:
He had surgery approximately two weeks ago on his shoulder. Why is that good? Because finally a concrete ailment was discovered and Miller had his shoulder scoped to clean it up, hopefully, once and for all. He should begin playing catch in spring training and could be back in a minor league game by June.
Isn't this the kind of thing we should learn about - much sooner - on Dodgers.com?
Update 2: In addition to the above news about Miller, Matthews had some interesting information and opinions to share in his chat. Some other highlights:
Update 3: Here's an excerpt from John Manuel's Baseball America feature on Miller:
Millerís first operation was arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in March 2004. The Dodgers expected him back by June or July last season. Instead, he missed the whole year. Miller would progress well with his throwing program, long tossing to build up his arm strength, but when he got back on a mound, inflammation and soreness returned in the shoulder. Finally, the Dodgers and Miller found the problem during an MRI exam. The tip of his shoulder blade was shaped in such a way that it was causing the inflammation by rubbing up against tissue in the shoulder.
Surgery was performed to shave down the bone, hopefully precluding further inflammation and giving Miller a chance to get back on the mound pain-free. The procedure technically is known as acromioplasty, the surgical reshaping of the acromion (the tip of the shoulder blade).
Is This Irony? No, It's Arizona
The team that hired and then days later fired a manager because of a past that included female harassment and driving under the influence has hired a scout whom another team hired and then days later fired because of a present that included female harrassment and ethnically slurring under the influence.
Wally Backman out, Bill Singer in. The former Dodger pitcher, who has been rehabilitating his career for 15 months since his unfortunate encounter with current Dodger assistant general manager Kim Ng, will be one of the Arizona Diamondbacks' six major league scouts, according to The Associated Press.
And to think the Mets, which fired Singer, almost interviewed Backman to be their manager.
Just noticing. It pays to come clean.
Glory to the Peanut Man
George Washington Carver and Jimmy Carter might head the list of famous Americans associated with the peanut. But perhaps the only person made famous by the peanut is Roger Owens.
More than 40 years ago, Owens was selling peanuts in the stands during Dodger Stadium's opening season when he found the path to a customer obstructed. What happened next is a magical part of Dodger lore ... and the centerpiece of a new book by Daniel S. Green, The Perfect Pitch: The Biography of Roger Owens, The Famous Peanut Man at Dodger Stadium.
But Owens does have a story. Born on Valentine's Day, 1943 in Glendale, Owens was the son of a minister and the oldest of nine children who grew up in poverty that helped drive his mother to a sanatorium and the siblings to foster care for a period of years. As a member of the National Guard in 1969, a Jeep accident in which he was a passenger forced Owens into emergency brain surgery to save his life. This happened a year after Owens' father, Ross, was shot point-blank in the chest, only to have the religious tracts in his coat pocket stop the bullet. (A Times article documents the event.)
You could say that you haven't truly experienced Dodger Stadium unless you've caught a bag of nimbly tossed peanuts by Owens - behind the back, under the leg, or via the "double-bagger" (a single toss that sends two different bags to two different people). That makes me a little sad, because I haven't. Owens usually works the third-base side of the park, and of the roughly 1,000 Dodger games that I have attended, probably all but 10 or so have been on the right side of the diamond. If and when Owens reaches me, I'm all full up.
That being said, I do remember getting peanuts from Owens during Ram games at the Coliseum in the 1970s, placing him on my consciousness lo these many decades. And he's one of those quietly spellbinding figures that if he didn't already exist, you'd have been pretty proud to invent.
Green is Owens' nephew, and at times, his enthusiasm for Uncle Roger carries his writing away (not that mine hasn't fallen victim to such flights myself). Describing an earlier job Owens had working at a newsstand, Green writes, "Before going to work, he would quietly stare at the dark, gray strip of boulevard. He was entranced with the torn newspapers flying down the forsaken streets, and with how the wind howled an octave higher than poverty's loud mockery of everyone that lived there."
Faith is also an integral part to the Owens story, and while as a religious work the book is on the mild side, Green clearly has a goal to place Owens' life in a spiritual or testimonial context. That's not to say that Owens is portrayed in any way as the Second Coming, but that his humility, along with his dedication and selflessness and even occasional missteps and depression, are themselves as important to Green as Owens' peanut purveyance itself. Broadly speaking, it's a Horatio Alger story with occasional surprises (such as the nonchalant treatment of the news that Owens' first wife was 17 years old when he married her, an event that either reflects vestiges of a different era or an implicit "not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that" philosophy).
It doesn't hurt if your subject knows how to write poetry with a peanut toss ...
He couldn't put too high of an arch on the toss, because he noticed how the concrete rafter above, from the next highest level of stadium seating, was not high enough to allow a throw like that.
Some fans were already seated and, sensing the tension of the moment, they sat there grinning devilishly, as if watching a show. They sat back comfortably, but with undivided attention, to see what this young peanut vendor would do about the situation.
Before panic set it, he whimsically and nonchalantly poised the bag of peanuts to throw behind his back in one sweeping motion and let it fly.
The bag soared with a slight curve to it, sailing past the indecisive roadblock of people that caused the dilemma, and into the waiting hands of the shocked man.
"Hey. That was cool," the customer said in amazement, holding the bag in his lap.
Owens will be back at Dodger Stadium this year, which gives me another chance to get my first behind-the-back ballpark peanuts from him. Good deal. He is a rare treasure of the ballpark, and after reading The Perfect Pitch, I have greater appreciation of him than ever.
Bottom photo by John Gannon. Woman pictured with the Owens children in the fourth photo is foster mother Edith Beatty. All photos courtesy of Daniel S. Green.
Last week, I began to wonder how Dodger Thoughts might commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers' first World Series title. While mulling continues (including whether the energy can be mustered to run a day-by-day recap of the season), it's clear that others have been thinking about it as well.
In his weekly mailbag for MLB.com, Ken Gurnick writes that "the Dodgers will wear Brooklyn jerseys several times this season, including Aug. 28 at Dodger Stadium, when members of the 1955 team will be honored during a pregame ceremony." If I'm not mistaken, this will mark the first appearance of throwback jerseys at the stadium. Presumably, there will be no player names on the back of those, either.
In addition, there will be an October 4 celebration in Brooklyn marking the actual anniversary of the title.
Speaking of Inspiring Stories ...
It's not about peanuts or even baseball, but "Boy, Interrupted" by Christine Foster in Stanford Magazine is a story worth knowing about.
Joe Kay was a math whiz, a two-sport star and an award-winning sax player. One moment after the buzzer, all that changed. ...
What's Wrong With This Paragraph?
Nice sentiments, but let's play "Spot the Errors" in this paragraph from Rod Beaton's debut notebook for USA Today.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully gets all the raves all the time. He's justifiably in the Hall of Fame. But pause a moment and toast his frequent partner, Ross Porter. He always played straight man for Vinny when not calling the game in partial role as a first-class backup. He's retiring after 28 seasons and he will be missed. He remains noted for his class, even though the Dodgers barely had enough time to give him a send-off luncheon.
1) Porter didn't retire, he was not offered a contract with extreme predjudice.
2) He wasn't Vinny's straight man, except in a metaphysical way, as they always were on the air separately in the Dodgers' one-man booth.
3) Saying "the Dodgers barely had enough time to give him a send-off luncheon" implies that they eventually found the time to do so - which they did not. Beaton is probably referring to the Southern California Broadcasters Hall of Fame lunch at which Porter was honored. (Unless there was some other private send-off luncheon by the Dodgers that we didn't hear about.)
Sunday Open Chat
There's a corner ... Spring Training is around it.
In Memoriam: Ossie Davis
Baseball did not figure prominently in Davis' acting career, though he did serve as a narrator in Ken Burns' documentary. But his passing is just one of those I can't ignore. What an incredible combination of sensitivity and authority Davis displayed.
For her part, among the many credits of her own remarkable career, Dee has played Rachel Robinson (opposite Jackie Robinson as himself) in 1950's The Jackie Robinson Story as well as Robinson's mother in 1991's The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson.
Update: Dennis Cozzalio, who as a University of Oregon freshman was an extra in Animal House, has a personal remembrance of John Vernon at his film-and-baseball site, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.
Nakamura, Up and Down
Adrian Beltre was a teenager when he made his debut with the Dodgers.
So was Norihiro Nakamura when he made his with the Kintetsu Buffaloes in Japan.
Though 31 years old, Nakamura is already a 13-season veteran of the Japanese major leagues. Signed this week to a minor-league contract, Nakamura won't replace Beltre in performance - he might not even make the Opening Day Dodger roster - but the few small parallels between him and Beltre are interesting.
Like Beltre, Nakamura had a promising season just after turning 20 before backsliding. He had an OPS of .827 in 1994, followed by .707 in 1995. In fact, Nakamura's OPS rose and fell in alternating years throughout almost the entire first decade of his career. Not until 2000-2001 did Nakamura have two consecutive years of improvement.
Like Beltre, Nakamura's age-25 season was the finest of his career to that point, with 32 home runs and an .856 OPS in 1998. He just missed matching that performance in '99, but then averaged more than 42 home runs over his next three seasons (2000-2002). Yes, even after your age-25 season shows dramatic improvement, you can get even better.
Of course, your second decade of professional baseball can also wear you down, no matter how young you are. Knee problems took hold of Nakamura around his 30th birthday, limiting his performance over the past two seasons (42 home runs total). What Dodger fans have to hope for is that better health will mitigate the downward pull that Major League Baseball will have on Nakamura's stats.
Just to compare, Hideki Matsui ended his Japanese career with eight consecutive seasons of .980-or-more OPS - a level Nakamura has only reached twice. As a 30-year-old with the Yankees last season, Matsui's OPS was .912. Knock 100-200 points off Nakamura's Japanese OPS, and you realize that basically, Nakamura might not be a much better hitter in the National League than Alex Cora was.
In any case, you can't help but be impressed by Nakamura's willingness to forgo millions of guaranteed dollars in Japan to take a chance on a contract that might land him in Las Vegas. And given that three years ago, the Mets offered Nakamura a two-year, $7-million contract, you can be excused for hoping that maybe the Dodgers just bought low on an underpriced stock. Just about anything they get from Nakamura will be, as one of my phys-ed teachers used to say, gravy on the cake.
Talking Shop with the Big Boys
Some random remembrances from last night's L.A. Press Club seminar on sports coverage in the initial twentieth of the 21st century:
Questioner: "My name's X, and I'm a blogger"
Update: Attendee Rob McMillin has his own report on the event.
Sosa Pundits Overload on Chemistry 101
When Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta traded Shawn Green (2004 OPS: .811) and $10 million to Arizona for four minor league prospects and release of the remaining $6 million on Green's contract, not only did most mainstream reporters criticize the move, many questioned DePodesta's credentials to be general manager, period.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry this week is trading Sammy Sosa (2004 OPS: .849) and $12 million to Baltimore for infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr., two minor league prospects and release of the remaining $5 million on Sosa's contract. Realizing that Green wasn't the outward clubhouse problem in Los Angeles that Sosa had become in Chicago, the contrast in press reaction is strong.
On ESPN.com, Jayson Stark calls the trade "best for everybody."
Phil Rogers offers Hendry sympathy, writing that he "made his manager happy, which unfortunately for Hendry left him with his name on a horribly one-sided trade."
Buster Olney also focuses on the positive side of the Cubs' fresh start: "There is more work to be done on this roster - and they can forge ahead, now that the Sosa chapters are closed."
Chemistry still reigns in the press. Most of the reviews of the Sosa trade have nothing to do with on-field performance, but instead the dugout, the locker room and admittedly, the car driving away from Wrigley Field.
And so, Hendry gets a free ride on this deal. If Sosa knocks out 50 homers in Baltimore, well, today we say Hendry still had to make the trade. Forget about the relative values of the players involved - it's all about peace and quiet.
I'm actually more sympathetic to this notion than you might think. I was among those who believed that the Dodgers had to get rid of Gary Sheffield in large part because of his recurring criticism of teammates and people in the organization. As a bonus, the Dodgers actually got some decent value in exchange for Sheffield.
Years later, many consider the trade a mistake. Why? Because Sheffield has since continued to produce at a rate that makes him an outside Hall of Fame candidate. He's done the job on the field.
The coming season will do much to determine how the Dodgers' so-called chemistry-busting trade of Paul Lo Duca will be remembered. The determining factors will be nothing more than the stats of the players involved: Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, Hee Seop Choi and Brad Penny.
Do you see what's happening here? In the moment, the trade is about chemistry. In the aftermath, the trade becomes about performance.
I believe that chemistry has an intangible value. I go to work for a living - I know how galvanizing enthusiastic people can be. I just don't know that this value is the least bit significant in the long run. If there's an argument to be made for the chemistry's importance, people are going to find a better way to make it. They are going to have to find a way to show the effect of good chemists and bad chemists on their teammates. If it's more important to have an enthusiastic mediocrity than a sour star, it would be nice to know why.
None of this, by the way, is an argument for keeping a sour mediocrity - and if that's what Sosa's become, then so be it (though there seems to be some doubt on that score). In any case, the evaluation of Sosa's performance needs to be the primary part of the initial discussion, just as an evaluation of Green's or Lo Duca's performance needed to be. Because that's where we're headed in the end.
Postscript: In contrast to the mainstreamers, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus writes: "The net result for the Cubs is that instead of paying $17 million for Sosa, they'll pay about that much for Jeromy Burnitz, who's likely to sign a one-year deal for about $5 million once the trade goes through. ... This trade doesn't make them a better baseball team: They're not saving any money, and they've downgraded their talent base."
MIT Takes on Harvard, Dodgers
Yong-yi Zhu, sports columnist for The Tech, the newspaper of the thinking minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, went to the trouble of picking on Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta today.
Mostly, it's a harmless enough school rivalry bit in which Zhu mocks DePodesta's Harvard education. Having gone to college where the ticket office phone number is (800) BEATCAL, I can relate:
For one thing, we learned that running a baseball team is among the many tasks at which Harvard graduates donít excel. They might be more arrogant than we are, but when it comes to making decisions, I wouldnít trust them with the important ones.
It's funny how the end of the second sentence seems to disprove the beginning. Anyway, Zhu continues:
A perfect example is the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Paul Depodesta, a Harvard graduate. He was entrusted with the task of making the Dodgers successful but has both ruined his own reputation and severely hindered the chance for LA to win another National League West title in this upcoming year.
I don't want to fall into the arrogance trap myself, so I'll just say I disagree with that statement and much of what follows in his look at DePodesta, most notably that backing out of the original Shawn Green trade "destroyed his reputation and precluded him from other trades during this off season."
Ultimately, Zhu concludes by returning to his original point:
Well, what can you expect from a Harvard alum?
Ah, to be young and able to mock a GM for his Crimson. I'm feeling nostalgic.
And I'm thinking DePodesta isn't going to trade for Jason Szuminski anytime soon.
Reminder: Sports Coverage Seminar
Just one day away: 21st-century sports journalism panel discussion.
Place: Los Angeles Press Club, 6464 Sunset Blvd., 8th floor
Info/RSVP: email@example.com or (323) 469-8180
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
09 08 07
Jon's other site:
Thank You For Not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity