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Joey Ballgame: Forgotten, But Not Gone
2004-02-04 09:37
by Jon Weisman

Got the following letter (unsigned):

To his credit, Frank McCourt has said all of the right things since he became the new owner of a once successful and storied franchise. The skepticism that I felt as a fan has been contained somewhat even as spring training approaches and we still have the same rally-killer extraordinaires preparing to dazzle us with another exciting season of first-pitch swinging, warning track flyballs we grew to love last season.

I read that the Dodger signed Jose "K" Hernandez. I am a bit confused and I am hoping that you may be able to shed some light on the subject - the subject being 2B. I do not understand why Jim Tracy hasn't given Joe Thurston a chance to prove himself? I know Cora is a whiz with the glove but he neutralizes his excellence in defense with his nonexistent bat. Whatever the Dodgers might lose by replacing Cora's glove with Thurston will be reimbursed with a legitimate hitter who makes contact and is never an easy out. Thurston had a great year in Vegas two years ago and it was a shock to everybody when Thurston did not make the club out of spring training. Did we miss something here? I don't think Dodger fans, including myself, will be able to tolerate a lineup that had Beltre, Cora, Izturis and the pitcher in succession. That is a guaranteed inning and a third of allowing the opposing pitcher to gather himself and gain momentum. Dave Roberts would be the only hitter who made an effort to work the pitcher. Every other starter did not feel obliged to do the same and we had 1-2-3 innings galore.

Paul Lo Duca was frustrating to watch. At one point, Lo Duca was on pace to match Jose Offerman's infamous 42 errors. Offerman was a shortstop and Lo Duca's a catcher. I think that the breakout season that Lo Duca had a couple years ago has now had a negative impact on him. Lo Duca apparently is thinking he is one adjustment away from becoming the offensive juggernaut he was a few years back. He hits absolutely weak grounders to the left side and barely has enough strength to send shallow pop flys into the outfield. With Karros and Grudzielanek gone last year, Lo Duca more than picked up the slack in hitting into inning ending double plays.

My response:

I'm sure Joe Thurston will get some at-bats in Spring Training 2004, but basically, the Dodgers wanted to hand him the job in Spring Training 2003 and he didn't hit. Okay - that was just Spring Training - an audition, not a full-fledged reflection of one's ability. I, for one, thought at the time that the Dodgers would have been better off keeping Thurston on the major league roster. In any case, Thurston then went and had a worse season in Las Vegas than he had in 2002. So it's hard to fault the Dodgers for being skeptical about him. Thurston had a .746 OPS in AAA - maybe Los Angeles is more his style than Sin City - certainly he deserves a chance to show what he can do at Vero Beach - but why should anyone assume that his OPS as a big-leaguer wouldn't drop to Cora's .625 level.

Thurston also only walked 31 times in Las Vegas - hardly reason to hope he would work the count like you correctly assert the Dodgers need.

Let's get rid of the Lo Duca-Offerman comparsion right at the start: Lo Duca made three throwing errors after the All-Star Game. Certainly, everyone wonders where his power went and whether it will ever come back, and yes, hitting into 41 double plays in the past two seasons hasn't helped any. There is a real incentive for the Dodgers to play David Ross more to see if they can get more production out of the catcher position. But, let's not forget that Lo Duca is a catcher, and above average among his brethren. It's not Lo Duca's job to carry the offense. It's the Dodgers' job to find offense to surround him. Catcher is probably the Dodgers second-strongest position on offense.

McCourt has said "all the right things?" I guess he has said some good things, but not all. And I'm still worried about what he hasn't said.

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