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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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1P + 30H = .600
2003-06-19 08:25
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

Light schedule or not, the Dodgers have now won two straight from the third-best team in baseball, and become tied for the third-best team in baseball with a 42-28 record - .600. Now .600 - that's a gaudy number. That's a 97-win pace.

This may seem like an odd time to pick at the team, but nothing is forever and some things are barely temporary, as we note from the losing streak that followed the Dodgers' previous day tied for first place.

But for a while now, Brian Greene, or BigCPA as I now think of him, and I have debated the composition of the team. Brian thinks that over the years, the Dodgers have been too eager to pursue pitching and not eager enough to pursue hitting. My feeling has been that it doesn't matter which they pursue, as long as they make smart moves, but Brian believes at a certain point, the over-emphasis on pitching becomes inherently flawed.

Read our e-mail exchanges, and if you have any thoughts, send them over. How much does the imbalance of the team matter?

***

(May 7)

Jon,

I enjoy your site and like the new look. Brief gripe for your consideration:

From your 4/12 entry "Quality Quality Starts"

"If the Dodgers keeping focusing on how many quality starts they've been getting, they're not going to go anywhere... Twice this week, the Dodger pitching staff was given three-run leads by its hitters. That's enough for a win. Both times, the staff blew the leads.... Pitching is clearly the Dodger strength. But let's not allow some phony measuring device like quality starts to give the pitchers more credit than they deserve or excuse them from trying to do better."

A month later now that the Dodgers are #1 in team ERA, #1 in bullpen ERA and have the #1 closer. With a 5 week sample size, it's quite evident that the #28 offense is the issue. Your piece today "This Is the Cause" spells it out perfectly. In 12 games in which Dodger pitchers have allowed 3 or 4 runs, the Dodgers are 4-8. These may or may not all be QS as defined, but you get my point. The pitchers have given the team the chance to win 25 games and they only have 16 wins.

I think Quality Starts is a great stat because it highlights games you "should win." Maybe it's better expressed like you've done, showing total runs allowed. Dodger pitchers have been underrated for years because of the anemic offense. Nomo should have won 20-22 last year. Ismael Valdes would have won 20 games 2-3 times easy with any kind of run support.

Your thoughts?

Brian Greene

Hi Brian,

I've gotten a couple of comments on that 4/12 entry - doesn't look like I did the best job on that one. I still stand by what I was trying to say :)

Here's what I believe:

1) The Dodgers have great pitching and terrible hitting.

2) The Dodgers need to hold their opponents to no more than 3 runs in a game to win, because it's unreasonable to ask this offense to come up with more than 4.

3) If your barometer for successful pitching is the quality start, meaning that 3 runs in 6 innings is a success, you're then asking your bullpen to pitch shutout ball.

4) I don't think that's fair. The bullpen should have as much right to a 3.00 ERA (one run in three innings) as the starters. It shouldn't be 4.50 for the starters and 0.00 for the bullpen.

5) Therefore, for the Dodgers, a quality start isn't the best barometer.

By the definition of the term, Odalis Perez had a quality start yesterday. But it's tough for me to see it that way. Yes - if the Dodgers had scored four runs yesterday, they would have won - but only assuming the bullpen throws three shutout innings. If the bullpen can be expected to pitch that well, why can't I expect the starters to do better?

By and large, I think we're in agreement on the major points. The offense sucks, the pitching is great, and (I really appreciate this one) Ismael Valdes was unappreciated. I don't think that quality starts is a worthless stat - but I think it was being overemphasized. On 4/12, at least, I think the bullpen had been making the starting pitching look better than it really was. I was just afraid that the starters would rest on their laurels. There was, in fact, room for improvement.

I think, for the Dodgers, a quality start is two runs in six innings - or even two runs in five innings. That gives both the overachieving bullpen and the underachieving offense the cushion the team needs to win.

What do you think?

- Jon

Jon,
Thanks for the response. I agree with you that Qual Starts is just too rigidly defined. I don't necessarily think you should adjust your threshold of a QS based on a given team's offense. In the case of the Yankees I suppose a QS would be 6 runs!

Here's how I think the Dodgers should measured. They should aspire (and we should expect) to be in the top 5-6 in the league in both ERA and runs scored. If that means a 3.75 era so be it. It's all relative. Trade your surpluses and address your shortages!

The reality is that in the past 20 seasons through 2002, the Dodgers have finished in the top 4 in runs/game only once! They've finished in the bottom 5 ten times! In ERA they've finished in the Top 3 13 of 20 years and in the Top 6 17 of 20.

Clearly Dodger Stadium favoring pitchers plays a part in this. But my view is the organization is just pitching obssessed in an offensive era. Most winning teams go with 1 or 2 superior starters, 3-4 4.50 era guys and slug it out. See Boston, SF, Anaheim, Seattle, StL. We have 5 excellent starters with Ashby waiting in the wings, the best middle relief and the #1 closer. Come on already!

Then look at the trade deadline moves the last two years. They bring in Trombley, Mulholland, James Baldwin, Shuey and Mr. Tyler Houston to save the offense. Or dare I recall Konerko/Reyes for Shaw.

They make no run at AROD, Damon, Rolen, Thome or Frank Thomas and skimp on offering Floyd. You know the story.

Here's my blueprint to get things moving in the right direction: Beltre for Nick Johnson. Youth for youth, we get a 1b, bigtime OBP, and power potential. Then we make a deal for Lowell, Randa whatever at 3rd. You still haven't shot your wad. Now you break the bank for Vlad or Tejada.

Maybe you can use your website to get the word out. :)

Also, I've attached the yearly team batting/pitching data for you. Do I smell a future column?

Later,
Brian

(I had an e-mail reply that, among other things, said that there's no way the Dodgers could get Nick Johnson for Adrian Beltre, but I can't find it. Let's move forward...)

(May 21)


Jon,
I sent you the email a few weeks ago with the Dodger offense rankings by year. I still think that data is worth an entry on your site.

While watching Kevin ($15M) Brown match zeroes last night with Darren (freakin) Oliver, I got to thinking about ballpark effects. If Dodger stadium is so pitcher-friendly, does this automatically mean you should allocate 3/4 of your payroll to pitching? If Darren Oliver and Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence and Livan Hernandez can put up zeroes in Dodger Stadium, why not save some money and just buy yourself an average staff?

I just don't think our "philosophy" makes sense. I read Dan Evans quoted somewhere recently that "in our ballpark you win with pitching and defense." Last I checked we had 2 division titles in 13 seasons in a division with 2 expansion teams and San Diego. How can this pitching-first philosophy still be considered so sacred?

Brian Greene

Hey Brian -

You're right - there is more to be said on this topic. I'm sorry I haven't hit it yet.

Just to answer you,again for the time being...

1) I take Evans' quote with a grain of salt, but I don't think we have had that pitching-defense combo during most of the past 13 seasons. Certainly not the defense. And as you suggest, what looks like a good ERA may not be that good when you consider park effects. The pitching stats must be exceptional for the pitching to be above-average.

2) "If Dodger stadium is so pitcher-friendly, does this automatically mean you should allocate 3/4 of your payroll to pitching?" Of course not. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't. The point is, you don't build a payroll from scratch - you are always adjusting one or a few players at a time, based on the talent available and the talent you can get. It's not as if Evans is against improving the offense. But given the hand that he was dealt - for example, $33 million-plus to Brown, Ashby and Dreifort alone this season, all of whom are untradeable - there's a limit to what he can do.

3) "If Darren Oliver and Adam Eaton and Brian Lawrence and Livan Hernandez can put up zeroes in Dodger Stadium, why not save some money and just buy yourself an average staff?" Again, I'm sure the Dodgers would love to save some money - but thanks to Kevin Malone, how do they do it?

Also, I think you're trying to have it both ways here. You are giving those pitchers credit for shutting down an offense that you yourself (correctly) indicate is poor. I think there's a pretty clear difference between Kevin Brown and Darren Oliver, despite how close last night's game was. Put them on opposite teams, and Brown's Rockies win the game by about a 5-0 score.

Overall - I agree with you. I think it's a myth to say that you win with pitching and defense. You win by having players who perform better than the other team's players, and it doesn't matter whether it's offensively or defensively. The Dodgers certainly could have their talent allocated better - of their top 25 players in the entire organization, I would say that perhaps 15 are pitchers. That's not a good balance. Yes, I'd like to see them make a trade to alleviate that imbalance, but it just ain't that easy. You have to be realistic. I take Evans' quote mainly as trying to put a good public face on what probably is a frustrating situation for him privately. I guarantee he'd like to unload Ashby and maybe Dreifort, but people only want Gagne and maybe Perez.

(June 17)

Hey Jon,
Nice article on the Dodgers by Tom Verducci at SI:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/tom_verducci/news/2003/06/17/insider

I especially like this point:
The Dodgers are swimming upstream against the tide of offense in today's game. Of the 64 postseason teams in the wild-card era (since 1995), only three finished worse than ninth in their league in scoring: the 1995 Dodgers, the 1996 Dodgers and the 2001 Braves.

I emailed you last month about the Dodgers crusty old pitching-first philosophy. I think Dan Evans needs to go read Moneyball and quit dreaming of Koufax/Drysdale/Orel. The Giants play in a pitchers park and lo and behold they're 6th in scoring and 6th in pitching. Seems like better constuction of a team to me!

Brian

Hey Brian -

You must think me a total flake. I actually did go back last week and look at the chart you sent me and all the past e-mails - all valid information, but I just had trouble adapting it into a column.

But maybe this is the launching point - maybe I should just run our e-mail exchanges. Anyway, correct me if I'm wrong or oversimplifying, but it almost seems to me like you are advocating balance for balance's sake. We can both stipulate that the Dodger offense is criminally bad. But the important thing to me is run differential, not whether the team is balanced. A team could score 162 runs in a season and go 162-0, after all (an extreme example, but it sort of evokes the 2003 Dodgers, doesn't it?).

Why is it better (I'm not asking this rhetorically - feel free to answer) that the Giants, in a pitchers' park, are sixth in the league in offense and ERA? What makes balance better? The 2003 standings certainly aren't that strong an arugment for balance - the Dodgers are only two games out.

To me, the Giants are better right now, simply, because their run differential is greater than that of the Dodgers. Slightly, but there it is. And I don't need to look at where the pitching and offense rank.

The key, to me, is not to rebalance the team, but improve the offense more than you hurt the pitching. Am I willing to consider a reasonable package that includes Guillermo Mota for Mike Lowell? Sure. But I'm not sure that the Marlins would be. And that's the problem. Just because this is the most pitching-rich, hitting-poor team in memory doesn't mean that there's a good trade being offered. I'm in the middle of Moneyball now, and one of the key points is that for Billy Beane, it's all about relative value. It's not about doing a trade because you have to.

Now, you can argue that somehow, Dan Evans should be able to find a profitable trade, and I'd agree with you. But that's not something we can really know, right now at least. It could be that Evans, for example, is waiting the Marlins out, hoping they'll reduce their asking price. He might be doing the smart thing.

I don't know.

But do keep in mind that the Dodger pitching really is truly exceptional so far, and has compensated for the lack of hitting - imbalanced team or not.

Feel free to hound me on this!

- Jon

(June 18)

Jon,
I totally agree that run differential trumps the design of a team. As Tom Verducci pointed out, 11 of the 16 teams to lead their league in scoring since 1995 have made the playoffs. And the Dodgers made it with the second to last offense twice. So whatever works works.

Here's another way of looking at this balance issue. Just imagine for a moment that the Dodgers had Manny Ramirez batting cleanup instead of Jordan or McGriff (position aside). Then imagine a scrub 5th starter like John Burkett in the rotation. If Burkett gets 30 starts, with a better offense, great defense and the #1 bullpen, they've got to win 10-12 of those games, maybe 15 (The Red Sox are 8-5 in his starts despite his 5.75 era!). So maybe you've lost 5 team wins vs the typical Dodger starter. But you've got a monster in the lineup for 150 games! I'm not a fan of game simulations, win shares etc., but I have to figure you're much better off. I just don't think the Dodgers think like this. They can't tolerate a single gap in their pitching arsenal. That's why we get Trombley, Baldwin, Valdes, Mulholland and Shuey at the trade deadline!

Question for you:
In the last 10 years since the Pedro trade, have the Dodgers made a single pitching for hitting trade?

No I don't think your a flake, but just to test you, here's a blog entry if I've ever seen one:

Did you know that the 1989 Dodgers finished dead last in runs scored an first in ERA?? It's in the spreadsheet I sent you! They won 77 games and finished 14 out. I can recall vividly the Dodgers trading Tim Leary/Duncan for Kal Daniels after that season. Amen! Mike Morgan had been a legit 6th starter in '89 and filled the hole. The next year their offense surged to 3rd in the league and they won 86 despite losing Hershiser for most of the year. With Orel back in 1991 and Strawberry signed, they posted a +100 run diff. and won 93 - their best team since 1988.

There has to be a moral in there somewhere for this 2003 team!

Regards,
Brian

Hi Brian -

You got me. I can't think of a significant pitching-for-hitting trade since Pedro-DeShields. Of course, that one worked out so well...

Yes, Manny Ramirez is more valuable than the Dodgers' No. 5 starter, be he Dreifort, Ashby or Alvarez. But it's like when you proposed getting Nick Johnson a month or two ago. Great idea - but how do you get him?

The trades for Trombley, Baldwin, Valdes, Mulholland and Shuey et al were awful at the time and look even worse now. That fact doesn't make the question above any easier to solve. It's not like they haven't gone after hitters. Tyler Houston, anyone?

This offseason, the Dodgers will have an opportunity to go after a bigtime slugger. But right now, which I gather is the time period that concerns you most, the only power hitter available is Mike Lowell. And depending on the package, that's a trade I could get behind. And Dan Evans may get behind it too. Beyond that, what exactly can you do?

One reason the Dodgers' pitching is so good right now and the hitting is so bad is that they simply have gotten more mileage out of guys like Gagne, Mota, Perez, etc. than they have out of their hitters. They're just better at it right now. You can ask Shaquille O'Neal to start making 80 percent of his free throws, and maybe he can concentrate on that some, but the bottom line is, he's just not very good at it. That's the situation with the Dodgers right now. The Dodgers are paying Kevin Brown about $15 million this year and he's been awesome. They're paying Shawn Green almost the same, and he hasn't been. Last year, it was the opposite. That's just the way it's going. I think you're over-extrapolating the extremes of this year to previous years. The Dodgers have had obvious gaps in both their hitting and their pitching over the years. You've convinced me that they've tried to solve the pitching gaps more than the hitting gaps, but it doesn't necessarily mean that either gap was "solvable" - meaning that they could have made a move that would put them in the playoffs. Ultimately, in most of the trades of the past several years, their best move would have been no move.

So if there's a moral in the 1989-1991 Dodgers, I think that moral is to make moves to improve your club, but not to make moves out of desperation. If the Dodgers can parlay their pitching depth into a front-line position player, then they should go for it. But if you're thinking that somehow Wilson Alvarez or Steve Colyer is going to deliver a 40-homer player, it's just not realistic. I'm all for improving the offense, but show me how.

I think I'm ready to take this to the web...

Jon

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