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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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Thinking It Through
2004-08-01 00:06
by Jon Weisman

The divided but passionate reaction to Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers erased any doubt about how much Dodger fans care about their team. But the past two days have been positively manic.

* * *

The Dodgers on August 1
Catcher: Ross, Mayne
First Base: Choi, Saenz
Second Base: Cora, Hernandez
Shortstop: Izturis, Hernandez
Third Base: Beltre, Ventura
Left Field: Bradley, Werth
Center Field: Finley, Werth
Right Field: Green, Grabowski
Starting Rotation: Penny, Perez, Weaver, Ishii, Lima
Closer: Gagne
Setup: Dreifort
Bullpen: Sanchez, Alvarez, Brazoban, Carrara

* * *

Over the past two days, the Dodgers have improved themselves in the following ways:

1) Their previously average starting rotation is now better.
2) They have rid themselves of Juan Encarnacion. Hee Seop Choi and Steve Finley add up to more offense than Encarnacion and Dave Roberts.
3) They have rid themselves of Tom Martin.
4) They have added depth with Jayson Werth relegated to fourth outfielder status.

The Dodgers have weakened themselves in the following ways:

1) No matter what kind of tailspin Paul Lo Duca might have over the final two months, he figured to be more valuable than Dave Ross and Brent Mayne.
2) Finley is, to my surprise, a slight step back offensively from Roberts, whom he replaces on the roster, not to mention a big step back from Werth, whom he replaces in the lineup. (Though not Encarnacion.)

Bases per Plate Apperance
Roberts: .544 ... 270 PA, 143 bases (83 TB, 32 BB+HBP, 32 SB-CS)
Finley: .533 ... 456 PA, 243 bases (198 TB, 41 BB+HBP, 4 SB-CS)
Werth: .620 ... 129 PA, 80 bases (63 TB, 15 BB+HBP, 2 SB-CS)
Encarnacion: .457 ... 350 PA, 160 bases (135 TB, 25 BB+HBP, 0 SB-CS)

3) They have lost setup man Guillermo Mota.

* * *

There are a few things I want to say before I continue.

One, VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which many fine writers like John Weibe and Robert Tagorda have been using to show that the Dodgers have won this weekend's trades, is not an evil invention from the Nerd Empire, but rather a combination of statistics the most neophyte baseball fan is familiar with. Statistics like ... hits. Runs. Outs. You don't know how it's calculated, and neither do I. But if you dismiss its value, you're dismissing the value of any and all statistics. And I don't think even the most spiritual baseball fan has any great need or desire to do that. After all, .406 and 755 are spiritual even though they're just numbers, aren't they?

Second, the 1988 Dodgers were nothing if not a team of heart and moxie. They were also a team with a superstar pitcher on the hottest streak baseball had ever seen. Take away Orel Hershiser, and the Dodgers don't see Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, much less the National League Championship Series. You don't win on heart and moxie unless there's talent backing it up.

Third, the value of a trade is affected by a manager's use of the personnel. For example, the impact of losing Mota might be better mitigated if Dodger manager Jim Tracy uses Wilson Alvarez or Eric Gagne in the eighth inning Saturday. (I'm not picking on Tracy tonight - you can make a case that Dreifort needed to have his shot. Just making a point.)

* * *

I have spent the past two days discussing the trades with my brother and father, neither of whom understand the moves. I've been explaining where DePodesta is coming from. They weren't familiar with how good Penny and Choi have been this season or how much potential they have. I'm reminding them that Lo Duca is 32 and entering the decline phase of his career, that the value of a Mota pitching four innings each week isn't equivalent to the value of a Penny pitching 7 to 14 innings each week.

It hasn't been hard to convey the value of ridding ourselves of Martin and Encarnacion, two players signed to contracts that pay them for perceived value rather than actual value.

Now, my family is now open-minded about Penny and Choi. Choi is a great pickup that will help the team this year and beyond. Again, in the Dodger lineup, substituting Choi for Encarnacion (even with Green making a slight step backward defensively to right field) is a positive.

At the same time, I've been struggling with the transactions more than you might expect - and it's because of Lo Duca.

It's not the "heart and soul" argument. I do feel the emotional impact of losing Lo Duca - truly, madly, deeply - but I looked at that Dodger team tonight, and they're going to be fine carrying Lo Duca in their hearts. And eventually, so will we.

It's just such a glaring hole at catcher. Whatever you thought of the Dodger starting pitching, there wasn't this huge crevice of performance that you were staring at. But when you look behind the plate, the void represented by the disappointing Dave Ross and the newly acquired Brent Mayne is huge.

Then, I went back to VORP. Essentially, given the choice between a starting battery of Wilson Alvarez (20.3 VORP) and Paul Lo Duca (22.3) or Brad Penny (33.3) and Dave Ross (-2.4), I'm actually going to take Alvarez and Lo Duca. With the stats to back me up.

Overall, the Dodgers have won the trades on paper. They have acquired more talent than they have given up. But I'm not sure I'm going to argue in favor of the trades any more, because I'm not sure that they've won the trades by enough.

There's no law, is there, that says I have to decide in advance whether these trades were good or not. I know it seems like there's such a law - in fact, it feels like it must be in the Constitution, the imperative is so strong. But I checked the books and it doesn't exist.

The remaining pre-trade Dodgers may render the trades unnecessary. Or absolutely necessary. I'm not convinced either way.

I am officially taking the position of wait and see, with hopes for the best. You may think it a cop-out, but I've given it a lot of thought and I find this to be the strongest position I could take.

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