Monthly archives: February 2003
HereÕs What Passes for Controversy These Days
Another sign that things are pretty tranquil in Vero Beach is that much of the discussion in todayÕs papers concerns who will start Opening Day, 32 days from now.
Will it be Hideo Nomo, the DodgersÕ workhorse, the team leader in wins and games started in 2002? Or will it be Kevin Brown, who if healthy, remains the nominal ace of the staff?
Well, in theory, the Opening Day starter should be Ņnone of the above.Ó Odalis Perez hasnÕt been mentioned as a candidate, even though he enters 2003 as the DodgersÕ best pitcher, having led the team in ERA and innings pitched in 2002, allowing less than one hit and walk combined per inning. But apparently, Perez doesnÕt have the requisite gravitas to get the assignment, so weÕll let that go.
Another theory would suggest the Dodgers start Giovanni Carrara. Or Don Sutton. Or Jon Weisman.
After all, the opposing Opening Day starter will be, in all likelihood, Randy Johnson.
In the month of April for the past three years, the multi-Cy Young winner is 15-3, 2.06 with seven complete games and zero no-decisions, averaging 7 2/3 innings per start. In his Opening Day start in 2002, Johnson shut out San Diego on six hits, 2-0.
No, you donÕt ever want to concede a game. But if youÕre going to arrange your rotation, does it necessarily make sense to throw your No. 1 against the other teamÕs, when your No. 1, by definition, isnÕt as good?
Perhaps that explains why Odalis Perez might not start until game No. 3, after Johnson and Curt Schilling have passed.
Or perhaps the situation isnÕt that dire.
First, letÕs look at how JohnsonÕs done against the Dodgers.
In 2001, Johnson pitched the Diamondback season opener against the Dodgers (who were playing their second game of the year) and won, 3-2. However, Johnson trailed 2-1 after six innings, finding himself outdueled by Eric Gagne, who made the start for the Dodgers in what already seems like an era gone by. Gagne left leading 2-1. but lefty reliever Jose Nunez gave up a two-run home run to Luis Gonzalez in the seventh.
In the past three years, Johnson is 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA against the Dodgers Š but thatÕs in 11 games. HeÕs averaged 7 1/3 innings per start but won less than half of them, so the Dodgers have been somewhat competitive.
In 2002, Johnson had mixed results in five outings. He had one of his worst starts of the year on May 26, blowing a 4-0 lead by allowing seven runs in five innings, though Arizona rallied to win in extra innings, 10-9.
He came back five days later and allowed three runs Š none earned Š over eight innings in a 6-3 victory over the Dodgers.
On July 1 in Arizona, Johnson shut out the Dodgers for four innings, then allowed four runs in the next three innings. Meanwhile, Nomo shut out the Diamondbacks over eight innings and the Dodgers won, 4-0.
On July 11, Johnson faced Nomo again and won, 4-3, but the loss was pinned to Paul Quantrill.
Finally, on September 4, Andy Ashby allowed five unearned runs in the first inning against Arizona, and Johnson cruised to a complete-game, 7-1 victory.
So Johnson has alternated between dominant and dominable, and Nomo has been up to the challenge.
As for pitching in April, Nomo allowed four runs in three innings in his first start of 2002. However, he then allowed only four earned runs in his remaining 27 2/3 innings for the month.
For his part, an ailing (as it turned out) Brown was hammered by San Francisco as the 2002 Dodger Opening Day starter, allowing seven runs in four innings in a 9-2 defeat.
And remember that opener in 1999, when Johnson started against Brown at Los Angeles? Brown, who would go on to be 18-9 with a 3.00 ERA that year, allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings Johnson left after 7 innings leading 6-2. But Raul Mondesi homered in the ninth and 11th innings to rally the Dodgers to an 8-6 victory. (This was probably the last great moment in MondesiÕs career.)
Conclusion: It should be Nomo in 2003. Yes, a healthy Brown might still be capable of greatness, and you can make a case against either pitcher in that both of them stunk in their first starts of 2002, but the odds right now are better that Nomo can go 15 rounds with Johnson.
I also think that in setting the tone for the Dodger season, rewarding someone for a strong 2002 is worthwhile. Brown can start the second game against Schilling and feel thatÕs a worthy challenge. Perez can go in game three against new Arizona acquisition Elmer Dessens and be the favorite in that one.
But for March 31 Š yes, March Š letÕs go with Nomo.
If youÕve digested that, hereÕs another conundrum for you: WhoÕs the Opening Day centerfielder? After platooning in 2002, Dave Roberts is going to get his chance against lefties this year Š but will his first chance be against the toughest lefty of them all?
I was slightly off on the box score - there weren't 30 on a side. The Dodgers beat the Tigers, 26-25. The pinch-hitting appearance by J. Price, whose first name, after all this time, I couldn't tell you (isn't that glorious?), put L.A. over the top.
Honestly, I was going to pretend to take Opening Day at Vero Beach seriously, but I just canÕt. YouÕd have as much chance picking the best Dodgers from an episode of American Idol as from a Spring Training opener.
(By the way - just wondering: What would those American Idol judges have said if a 25-year-old Bruce Springsteen came on stage and slammed out Born to Run? Seriously Š I want to hear your responses.)
Anyway, instead of extrapolating any real significance from the opener, in which the Dodgers beat the Tigers, 6-5 (if you go by runs scored), IÕm just going to stay on the emotional plane I took off on this morning, and write about who walked off the field feeling jazzed. Because whatÕs Spring Training about more than walking around with a smile on your face?
HereÕs who Simon, Paula and Randy would have sent to Hollywood:
Larry Barnes: After homering in the first two intrasquad games, Barnes had a single, stolen base and a two-run, bottom-of-the-ninth, game-winning double. He also injured his foot, but maybe this'll soften the pain.
Mike Kinkade: For the guy who is out to prove that his small sample of great hitting in 2002 wasnÕt a misleading one, two homers in an even smaller sample Š two at-bats Š ainÕt all bad.
Jason Romano: A hit in his first Dodger at-bat. (Fred McGriff did the same thing, but donÕt you suspect heÕs been around too long and too many places to even think about it? I bet JasonÕs grinning.)
James Loney: The box score has him 0-for-3 as a pinch-hitter Š apparently everyone has some kinks to work out this early in the season, even the agate clerks. Anyway the 18-year-old Loney is cracking a smile about being robbed of a grand slam by an over-the-fence catch. "I was thinking, 'don't rob it, don't rob it,' but I could see he was getting ready to catch it," Loney told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. "This is really fun for me. I can say I got robbed in a big-league Spring Training game."
IÕm tempted to write about the converse Š such as Calvin Maduro giving up a ninth-inning homer to a Tigers minor leaguer named Craig Monroe Š but it seems unnecessary. If you want to give Calvin a reprieve, call our 800 numberÉ
And Away We Go É
Writing for this site has really gotten me revved up for the Spring Training opener today. In recent years, my enthusiasm for the first exhibition game has dovetailed with the reality of its importance. Though itÕs great to know that baseball is starting again, what happens in these exhibitions, especially the early ones, is almost meaningless.
This year, though, IÕm going to be overanalyzing everything. And loving it. Can't wait to see that first box score with 30 guys in each column!
The Dodger opener begins at 10:05 Pacific Time. IÕll come back later with my postgame reactions.
In the meantime, hereÕs the quote of the day, from Toronto shortstop Chris Woodward, courtesy of Sports Weekly. Chris must have taken math from Rickey Henderson:
ŅWe were 2Z months into the seasons with 200 at-bats, and I was hitting .190,Ó Woodward said. ŅI remember looking at the stats, thinking I can go 50-for-50 and only be hitting .240.
Just think, though Š if you went 1000-for-1000, youÕd be hitting 1.190, right, Chris?
Walter Alston and Sandy Koufax: Two Views
Bill James, The Bill James Guide to Baseball Mangers:
Was he more of an optimist or more of a problem solver? An optimist. Alston waited for six and a half years for Sandy Koufax to find home plate. I doubt that any other manager in baseball history would have, except perhaps Connie Mack.
Jane Leavy, Sandy Koufax: A LeftyÕs Legacy:
"The only thing that bothered Sandy was when he threw two or three balls, they got somebody up in the bullpen," said (Joe) Pignatano. Often, it seemed, Alston had someone warming up in the first inning. Red Adams, who later became the Dodger pitching coach, said, "Walter didn't have a lot of scout in him."
Jackie Robinson, then in his final season, clashed with Alston on many subjects, including Koufax. (Tom) Villante, who was affiliated with the Dodgers throughout the fifties and sixties, said, "The one thing about Jackie was, no matter who the hell you were, Jackie appreciated talent. If you were good, he was on your side. I think he saw that in Sandy. Added to that was the fact Jackie Robinson did not like Alston.
"Jackie always thought Alston was dumb. And the very fact that Sandy would every so often show this terrific flash of brilliance and pitch a terrific game and not pitch again for thirty days would add to Jackie saying how dumb this guy was."
Eventually, reporters began to question why Koufax was "wasting his life" in idleness.
Man, the news from Dodgertown is upbeat.
Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Wilson Alvarez - all feeling healthy.
Second basemen Joe Thurston and Quilvio Veras combining for six hits, a walk and three steals in Tuesday's intrasquad game. Thurston went 4-for-4. just like he did in the 2002 regular season finale.
The Dodgers proclaiming a new emphasis on drawing more walks, with Dan Evans telling the Associated Press: ŅIt's something that has to be practiced and preached all the time. When you look at the better ballclubs, they're laden with guys who have high on-base percentages.''
No blues from the Big Blue Wrecking Crew ... IÕm enjoying it.
Grudzielanek: Channeling Gary Sheffield
"That last year was a circus over there. A lot went on. I was looking forward to something happening where I could move on and reload because they weren't going in the right direction over there.''
Brown: Channeling Ed Norton
Cora: Channeling Derrel Thomas
Lo Duca: Channeling Pure Emotional Energy
I've added a link to MLB.com's Dodger news coverage to the site. (Dodgers.com is a subset of MLB.com.)
Adrian Beltre and the Ticking Clock
When your philosophy is that an organization should build from within, and when you've watched the poster child for that philosophy make unsteady progress, it's a little scary.
I really want Adrian Beltre to succeed, both so that the Dodgers will do well, and to validate my belief in him and what he represents. I've had bigger attachments to individual Dodgers in the past, but I don't think that I have more personally invested in anyone on the team this year than Beltre.
But I have to admit, the doubts crept in.
I think most people expected Beltre to turn the corner in 2002. He had shown promise from 1998-2000, then declined in 2001. That was the year he almost died following an emergency appendectomy that was a big E-5, and so everyone was pretty willing to write that year off.
But it didn't happen. Beltre's OPS in 2002 was about as bad as it had been the year before. He had three good months and three bad months, in no particular order. He was a mystery, and the Dodgers, in a playoff chase, came close to trading him rather than try to solve it.
Beltre still doesn't turn 24 until April 7, so I felt very strongly all last year that it was too soon to give up on him, and was relieved that he remained the starter through all his troubles. But I'm aware that everyone's patience might be exhausted in 2003 if he doesn't step it up. So, I wanted to take a close look at Beltre's stats to see if I could figure out what the problem was.
He has never hit at well at home as on the road, but that's not unusual for a Dodger. His walks and batting average have been going down, which is discouraging - because it might imply that pitchers have figured out that if they just throw it over the plate, he won't do that much damage.
The Raul Mondesi syndrome. I feared it might be terminal.
To try to get just a hint of why we might expect from Beltre this year, I went to BaseballReference.com. The site provides lists of players whose stats are closest to a player at a given moment. Using a formula created by Bill James, the site ranks the similarity of these players on a scale where a virtually identical player comes in at 1,000 points.
These scores are calculated using a number that effectively includes OPS and other stats. You can skip the upcoming italicized section if the methodology doesn't concern you. (I believe the methodology below refers to career statistics - I'm assuming it's adjusted for seasonal statistics, though I don't know how.)
To compare one player to another, start at 1,000 points and then you subtract points based on the statistical differences of each player:
Okay - welcome back. Here, then, are the players most similar in baseball history to Adrian Beltre, career through age 23:
Santo, the former Chicago Cub third baseman who has been cited by some as the player most overdue for Hall of Fame recognition (and who happens to be profiled by Ross Newhan in the Times today), has also been the most similar player to Beltre each individual season from ages 20-23.
Here are their OPS marks by age:
Looking at those numbers, Beltre and Santo are not as similar as you might be led to believe. In part, this can be explained by the fact that we're comparing players not only from different teams, but different eras.
To help combat that, I'm going to use the Adjusted OPS statistics, or OPS+, provided by BaseballReference.com. OPS+ factors in the park and league in which each player played, and is expressed as a percentage above or below a league average of 100.
OPS+ by age
This helps, but again, we're reminded that although Santo and Beltre were similar from ages 20-23, they were not identical. Beltre was pretty even with Santo for the first two seasons. They diverged more in the next two seasons, mainly because Santo went way down at age 22, then way up at age 23, while Beltre declined less precipitously but stayed there.
I did find it interesting, if coincidental, that the year Santo's production went down was the year Beltre had to recover from his botched appendectomy. (Perhaps Santo's struggle with diabetes is the reason?) Even more interesting, like Beltre, all 10 players on the list had at least one season-to-season decline in OPS+ before turning 24:
If we get nothing else from this exercise, it helps to know that a temporary decline at a young age is not unusual. It does not mean greater success won't come.
Now ... let's venture intrepidly toward the future.
Here are the 10 players' OPS+ scores at age 24:
A pretty wide range, there - but eight of the players were above average and above Beltre's age-23 level. Santo, the player most similar to Beltre, had the best season of his career at age 24, in 1964. He posted a regular OPS of .962, batting .312 with 33 doubles, 13 triples, 30 home runs, 86 walks and 114 RBI.
Here's my experiment. I'm going to multiply the age-24 OPS+ scores by the similarity scores - thus weighing each score based on how similar the player has been to Beltre - and then average them out:
Santo: 975 x 164 = 159,900
An OPS+ mark of 118 would slightly exceed Beltre's best season so far. When Beltre had an OPS+ of 116 at age 21 in 2000, he had a regular OPS of .835, batting .290 with 30 doubles, 20 home runs, 56 walks, 85 RBI in 138 games. If he put up similar numbers over a full season this coming year, I think people would be relieved, if not happy.
As I prepared to examine Beltre's career, I was not expecting to find anything encouraging. I wasn't aware that a decline at a young age so commonly preceded a rejuvenation. So even though this is nothing to bet the house on, I can afford a little more optimism that Beltre will at least have a better season this year than last.
Just before publishing this, I received my Baseball Prospectus 2003 yearbook in the mail. Using a system that in evolution is like space travel to my using a Big Wheel, Nate Silver and his colleagues are predicting Beltre to show a slight improvement.
The numbers unadjusted for park effects don't look that glamorous: .268 batting average, .328 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage, .762 OPS, 18 homers, so the mainstream fan might not be appeased.
Still, all those people waiting for Beltre to come around, like me, may finally be rewarded for their patience - whatever patience they have left.
LetÕs check in on whoÕs in, whoÕs out and whoÕs on the bubble among the 45 candidates for the Dodger 25-man roster. This includes my first look at some of the non-roster candidates.
Obviously, this could change with injuries or trades, but this gives us a baseline heading into the spring training opener Thursday.
Bullpen (5): Eric Gagne, Paul Quantill, Paul Shuey, Giovanni Carrara, Guillermo Mota
Mystery Men (2): Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort
Starting Lineup (8): Dave Roberts, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Brian Jordan, Fred McGriff, Adrian Beltre, Joe Thurston, Alex Cora
Bench (2): Mike Kinkade, Daryle Ward
So, there are four spots remaining Š either three bench players and one relief pitcher, or four bench players and no relievers. IÕll list the remaining possibilities in order of how likely I think it is theyÕll make it.
Most Likely to Succeed (4)
Cesar Izturis, SS: The fact that he signed a split contract, with a salary below the major league minimum if he is in the minor leagues, signals that the Dodgers might have realized the potential value of Alex Cora in the starting lineup. They might also think that a starting middle infield of Izturis and Thurston will be too green. (ItÕs hard to believe, but Cora is now a veteran Š heÕs now played 398 career games.) They might want Izturis to get full-time at-bats in Las Vegas, where heÕs never played, rather than have him become a utility player at such a young age - but the odds are that they think enough of him to shuttle him into the starting lineup.
David Ross, C: Three things could keep him off the team: 1) his injuries, 2) a great showing by a lefty reliever, 3) Hundley reveals heÕs had a secret arm transplant
Wilson Alvarez, LHP: Dan Evans seems to really want him to succeed as the Omar Daal replacement Š even though Darren Dreifort should fill that role. IÕm dubious, but in terms of making the roster, heÕs probably got enough to get spring training hitters out and make the move viable. If the Dodgers are healthy, a 12-man staff isnÕt necessary, but, you know É
Strong Shot (9)
Steve Colyer, LHP: 24 years old, had a 3.45 ERA in 59 relief appearances for AA Jacksonville last year. Struck out 68 in 62 2/3 innings. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Dodgers may be hoping for a lefty Eric Gagne (6-2, 195), but Colyer also walked 40.
Jason Romano, IF/OF: See January 28. Not a real promising prospect in my mind, but if Izturis goes to the minors, might make the right 25th man.
Terry Shumpert, IF/OF: Fits the utility man mold. At age 36, in direct competition with his much younger teammate on the Rockies last year, Romano.
Ron Coomer, 1B/3B: See January 31. He doesnÕt belong on the team. Has enough name recognition, and the Dodgers donÕt really have a backup third baseman. But Beltre might play 1,458 innings or more this year, if you get my drift.
Quilvio Veras, 2B: Has been a starter in the past. Missed 2002 with injuries. The position-player version of Wilson Alvarez. Though there is a spot open for a middle infielder, his lack of outfield experience hurts his chances.
Chad Hermansen, OF: Sounds like there are doubts about his shoulder. HeÕs out of options, so heÕd have to go on the disabled list or be released. Look for him to be just ailing enough for the DL.
Jolbert Cabrera, IF/OF: Versatile, but seems dispensable. Out of options. Dodgers might hope he could be released and unclaimed, thus allowing him to go to Las Vegas.
Yorkis Perez, LHP: 3.29 ERA for Baltimore last year in 23 relief appearances. Pitched better there than he did during his 28 relief appearances in the minors. 35 years old Š only 10Z years younger than Jesse Orosco. No relation, I donÕt think, to Carlos et al.
See You Mid-Season? (11)
Chin-Feng Chen, 1B/LF: Once their most exciting prospect after batting .316 with 31 home runs, 123 RBI and 31 steals in San Bernardino in 1999, he now seems to have some real holes in his game: declining speed, no defense, strike zone issues. Still has something to prove.
Koyie Hill, C: Promising Š had a good spring training last year followed by a good season in AA. With Hundley and Ross both candidates for the DL sometime this year, we might see him.
Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP: I know next-to-nothing about him, but have heard his name bandied. He went 2-3, 2.91 with 23 strikeouts in 21 innings for Las Vegas at the end of last season, and apparently had a great winter season. Think the Dodgers didnÕt notice Francisco RodriguezÕ rise with the Angels?
Victor Alvarez, LHP: Came up from Las Vegas last year when the Dodgers were slammed by injuries, and floundered in his first opportunities before having a decent outing after the Dodgers were eliminated. 25 years old, with options remaining.
Lindsay Gulin, LHP: Split between Jacksonville and Las Vegas last year. He mainly relieved at Jacksonville but started at the higher level in Las Vegas Š youÕd expect the progression to be the other way around, wouldnÕt you? Anyway, he went 5-2 for each of them and struck out more than a batter per inning. 26 years old.
Troy Brohawn, LHP: Pitched 59 games for Arizona in 2001, 11 games for San Francisco in 2002. DidnÕt do that well (career ERA: 5.07) Š but is he a good-luck charm?
Calvin Murray, OF: Just looks like a failed prospect still trying to make it happen Š and who canÕt empathize with that? 31 years old, career OPS of .648 in 277 games.
Larry Barnes, 1B: Formerly in the Angel organization. Lefty bat, but Daryle Ward and Todd Hundley block him.
Calvin Maduro, RHP: 28 years old, started 10 games out of 12 appearances for Baltimore last year and went 2-5, 5.56. With all the righties on the team, canÕt see a future for him here.
Rodney Myers, RHP. 33 years old. Mostly in the minors, but did see 14 appearances with the Padres. See Maduro.
Koufax Knows Best
Honestly, I did not expect that the Post would issue any kind of apology, much less so quickly. The paper first apologized for the consequences of its "blind item" on Sandy Koufax, then for "getting it wrong."
Think of all the gossip this paper runs. The Koufax bit wasn't even the only blind item about a public figure's homosexuality in the column that ran December 19. I'm sure public figures have complained to the paper on a weekly, if not daily basis. Why would they care that this old ballplayer was boycotting his team, miles and miles away.
But Koufax got to the Post. I underestimated his power, and his brains.
WhatÕs All This Talk About a Health Insurance Crisis?
Although Derek Thompson came to the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft, he was probably destined to be redirected to Cleveland and the minors. However, now he is out for the season with a torn medial collateral ligament.
As a result, he will spend the year on the DodgersÕ major league roster via the 60-day disabled list. And he will earn a major-league salary of $300,000 Š six times what he would have earned in the minors.
Yes, injuries are painful and scary. But, especially with how effective Tommy John surgery has become, could an injury come at a more propitious time for a borderline player?
Koufax is Post-erized
The news: Sandy Koufax has severed ties with the Dodgers because of his offense at a gossip item in the New York Post, which, like the Dodgers, is owned by News Corp.
The gossip, printed two months ago, didnÕt mention Koufax by name, but by implication. I hadnÕt heard anything about it here in Los Angeles, so I donÕt know how big a deal it was on the East Coast. Apparently, it was enough.
I donÕt want to take generalized potshots at the media, whom I still consider colleagues, but this particular example appears to exemplify the incredibly poor behavior some in the business are capable of. I realize this puts the very existence of some gossip columns in question, but I donÕt believe that innuendo has any news value and that it should be printed. Almost all of the people IÕve worked with feel the same way.
Koufax has all my sympathy in the world for what's happened.
Even acknowledging the mutual ownership of the Post and the Dodgers, it seems too bad that Koufax is rigid about the connection between the two entities - that he can't endorse one while protesting the other. Their common interests are far up the food chain.
Koufax now won't visit Dodgertown, either as a freelance employee or as a friend. It doesn't make sense to me. He certainly wouldn't expect any of the Dodgers - his best friend Dave Wallace, for example - to resign in protest or otherwise withhold services over what transpired at this so-called sister organization, the Post. Is there any reason Koufax should feel the need to do so?
The only conclusion I can draw is that he's just so mad and he doesn't know what else to do to show it. But in effect, he's directly bumming out the Dodgers, indirectly hurting News Corp. and not harming the Post at all. It seems misguided.
In any event, News Corp. wonÕt own the Dodgers forever, or even the long term, it appears. For a lot of reasons, including but not limited to Koufax, this is good.
IÕll just renew my plea that the next owners, whoever they are, come in quietly and humbly. They can do good, but they can also do harm, even if theyÕre not Fox. The Koufax issue aside, Bob Daly, Dan Evans, Dave Wallace and Jim Tracy have made progress mitigating the effects of Fox ownership. IÕd hate to see that path changed.
P.S. Tommy LasordaÕs quote in the Los Angeles Times:
"This just ruined my day," said Lasorda, who joined Koufax on the Brooklyn Dodger pitching staff for part of the 1955 season. "Sandy would always come by and say hello when the team would come to town, so I was wondering what was going on because I hadn't seen him all spring. Now that I know what happened, I can't tell you how bad I feel."
Maybe itÕs my own reflexive reaction to Lasorda, but saying it Ņruined my dayÓ seems like an idiotic choice of words. ThatÕs the expression you use when you get a speeding ticket, not when your friend of 50 years will no longer be coming around.
March Madness is coming soon, and everyone will be filling out their NCAA hoops brackets.
Part of the fun with March Madness is that you know there are going to be upsets, so you canÕt just pick who you think is the better team. You have to take a stab at who is ripe for a surprise. ItÕs even more rewarding when you gamble on an underdog to make a run to the Sweet 16 or beyond Š and they do.
Making season predictions for baseball is similar, as last yearÕs Villanova/North Carolina State run by the Anaheim Angels proved.
Here is a sneak peek at my predictions for the 2003 baseball season. IÕm going to give myself one more chance to revise them before the regular season starts, but IÕve been giving it some thought for a few weeks and wanted to put them out there now.
I donÕt have too many upsets, but there are a few that might set my bracket apart.
Comment: Tampa Bay ahead of anyone is an upset. But IÕm going to play a hunch that they can improve enough to pass Baltimore, which may not be as bad as its 4-32 finish last year indicates, but doesnÕt look much better. New York vs. Boston should be a fun race but I donÕt think the Yankees are done yet.
Comment: IÕm really tempted to pick Chicago over Minnesota Š I may reconsider that one before April. No real reason to think Minnesota is due for a decline, but I like ChicagoÕs lineup, and even if Bartolo Colon isnÕt as good as we was last year, he wonÕt hurt.
Comment: Hard to go against an Angel team that should have better pitching this year, and perhaps a better season from Troy Glaus. But Oakland was a freight train last fall until the playoffs, and I think theyÕre really going to be hungry.
AL Wild Card: Anaheim
Comment: I think Art Howe deserves more respect as a manager than heÕs gotten, but without him misusing the AÕsÕ great starting pitching in the playoffs last year, Oakland might have won it all. I think this year, theyÕll get it right. Brutal division Š itÕs a bit of an upset to pick a wild card coming from this highly-competitive quartet.
(Using AÕs as a possessive is weird.)
Comment: The PhilliesÕ lineup looks great and AtlantaÕs does not. But I believe in Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, and IÕm not sure I believe in Phillies manager Larry Bowa. Tons of pressure on the Phillies this year. As for the bottom three, IÕm hunching that Montreal has another surprise season in them. New YorkÕs pitching is dubious behind Glavine, and Florida, despite its talent, looks totally mismanaged.
Comment: No real upsets here. IÕd like to pick Chicago, with its great pitching and new manager, but IÕm not convinced the overall team is superior to St. Louis or Houston. The fact that St. Louis could win last year, with all the problems it had, makes it hard to pick against them.
Comment: The Giants have high-ceiling pitching depth coming up from the minors, but I donÕt believe in their lineup after Barry. With Arizona, their starters after Schilling and Johnson still arenÕt great, but theyÕre better than they were last year. I think the Dodgers can hang close with the top two, but theyÕre going to need some falloff from either Bonds, Schilling or Johnson to be a factor. The Dodger starting pitching is truly fragile across-the-board, but I think theyÕre still a good bet to stay ahead of San Diego and Colorado.
NL Wild Card: Philadelphia
Comment: If Philadelphia can make the playoffs, I think they could have the fire to blast through. IÕm willing to gamble on it now.
World Series Champion: Oakland
Comment: AL wins again, no matter whoÕs in.
IÕd love to seed these teams in a bracket and have a March Madness-like tournament Š one-game series where each team uses its best pitcher Š but Strat-o-Matic has stopped making its computer game for Macintosh, and I donÕt really have the time to spend on it. But itÕd be fun.
The New Stats - They Mean No Harm
Calculus killed me. Math was easy until calculus. After that, math became Sanskrit. So I get that there are limits.
But the new baseball stats that are coming into use today - they aren't calculus. So don't be afraid. Give them a chance.
It's often said that no sport depends on numbers for its popularity more than baseball. Numbers like 61, .406 and 1.12 have volumes of meaning that bridge generations.
That said, many baseball fans, writers and professionals are resistant to, if not critical of, any hint of excessive or, dare I say it, newfangled statistical analysis. (By the way: 27 words in that sentence and six commas, for a ratio of 4.50 WPC.) These people can be longtime fans who worry that stats will suck the romance out of the game, or managers who feel that stats can't substitute for human observation. Statisticians are often perceived as a threat to the game itself.
In no way am I a statistician, but I'd like to speak up in their defense - and explain why this matters to Dodger fans.
The Suits and the Dungarees
Everyone will have their limit, based on how much they want to know and how much they want to learn. But it seems to me that baseball is not baseball without numbers. It is a poetic game, to be sure, and a visual one. But fundamentally, you keep score. One team gets more runs than another. Stats help us evaluate who helps their team get more runs than another.
This shouldn't be like a high school war between the jocks and the geeks. Watching a player has its role, and evaluating a player with numbers has its role. They can co-exist.
That said, can we agree that it's okay to use newer, better stats?
Some people are fiercely loyal to the stats they grew up with, and are offended by change. Batting average is cool, but OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is too much. (Can I get away with a WKRP in Cincinnati reference here? It's a battle between "the suits and the dungarees.")
In the end, we all need clothes.
Look, I take the purist side on many issues, like being anti-DH and anti-wild card, but I don't do so for the sake of being a purist, but because I think the game was better without those changes.
I get that there will always be some magic to a player's batting average, to the idea of trying to hit .400 or even .300 and of avoiding .200, so I don't want to see batting average eliminated from the records.
But it's becoming clearer that magic and poetry are about the only value that the batting average statistic has. People should not be affronted by the idea that measures of performance that are newer and more reliable than batting average have been discovered, such as OPS. People should be encouraged that they can offer more informed explanations about why Eric Karros is no longer a very good player.
In particular, the media should not live in denial.
Pull Up a Chair for OPS
OPS is a relatively new concept. It's second-hand to me now, but I don't think I've been aware of it for more than a few years. Of course, a few years is better than nothing. I revel in the ability OPS has to provide a one-shot indicator of a player's performance. Clearly, it is more effective than batting average, and nimbler than citing separate on-base and slugging percentages. Some media outlets, such as ESPN.com, have come to realize this.
And yet, I'm pretty sure that the next reference to OPS in the Los Angeles Times will be the first.
The Times is the paper of record in Los Angeles, so it does not need to take change lightly. But it should also strive to provide the best analysis of any given subject. Certainly, a minority of its readers are going to be familiar with OPS. But I think if this is the best tool at hand, providing both efficiency and simplicity, then the Times beat writers should learn it and use it.
Same goes for Vin Scully. There's no announcer for whom I have more love or respect. But past achievement does not eliminate the need to adapt - just look at Kevin Brown. There are better tools available today, and I am dying to see Vinny look beyond the old school stuff and use them in his broadcasts.
(It has to be Vin, by the way. If Ross Porter does it, more power to him - but he's so criticized for his reliance on numbers that the citywide resistance may be vitriolic. And if Rick Monday does it, will anyone notice amid his rambling? Even though he has his detractors, Vin has the necessary authority to put OPS into use in Los Angeles.)
My own audience, such as it is, is a mix of people who used OPS before I knew what it was and people who may still be in the dark about it. But you know, you've got to learn sometime. It's not like the Times explains what ERA is every day. If a media outlet uses vocabulary that the reader doesn't understand, I don't see a problem with the reader having to do a little self-education.
Stats are part of the game. Everyone should agree on that. Sure, let Dusty Baker ignore OPS, play a hunch and let Shawon Dunston into a World Series game (and watch him hit a home run). But can a better stat like OPS at least be part of the discussion? I don't see why not.
EqA - Obscurely Wonderful, Like Fernando in 1980
I was gonna say Jack Fimple in 1983, but it turns out his OPS was only .658, and I thought that might be controversial.
Anyway, I'm not saying OPS is not the be-all and end-all.
I'm studying this stuff more, trying to understand all the statistical tools out there. Not as an end to itself, but as a better means to do the evaluation of the Dodgers that I'm trying to do.
In using OPS, I'm ahead of the mainstream curve, but I still trail the cutting-edge curve.
The latest item I'm just now starting to work into my baseball vocabulary is Equivalent Average, or EqA, which appears to be even more useful than OPS.
Baseball Prospectus defines EqA as "a measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. The EqA adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty."
You can see the advantages right away. OPS doesn't make any of the above corrections. So when I use OPS to compare Shawn Green to a player from another team, like Raul Mondesi -- much less a player from another era, like, oh, Mel Ott, I have to guess at the adjustments that I must make.
Additionally, in a manner that serves to appease or entice the so-called purists, the EqA scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. An average EqA is .260 - which on a gut level, seems like the batting average of an average ballplayer. (Does it hurt the case for EqA if I wish they had picked .250? You know - a simple 1 for 4?)
For now, OPS remains handier because it can be located on many baseball websites and can be calculated very easily. EQA is not nearly as accessible. The only EQA chart I know of is on the Baseball Prospectus site, and it's not comprehensive.
I also have to mention that in this, my first experience writing about EqA, the shift between capital and small letters is tiresome. I hate to be insolent, but can I write EQA instead?
Let's try it. Write me if it bothers you.
In any case (literally), I'm going to start to try to work in EQA into my articles, hoping it provides some use, while acknowledging that it might be another gateway drug for me to an even more obscure if effective stat.
Here are some relevant 2002 EQAs for the Dodgers, and where they ranked in the major leagues within their given position (minimum 502 plate appearances):
.265 Paul Lo Duca (6th among C)
Beltre really does have a ways to go, doesn't he. Good thing he still qualifies as young. Of course, no one on the team is has more ground to cover than Izturis.
You can see the similarity in the EQA scores between Lo Duca and Karros, but the difference as to where they rank in their given positions.
McGriff, Jordan and Grissom were more above-average than I expected. And Cora, for his position, was really high - and it's not like he had an infinitesimal amount of at-bats. With his fielding ability, doesn't it seem strange that he is an underdog for a starting job this year? Or is it that human element that makes it wise to make him a backup? Seriously - I'd like to know.
Barry Bonds was 87 points higher than the next-best major leaguer, Manny Ramirez (.370).
No, I don't need OPS or EQA to tell me Barry Bonds had a better season than anyone else last year. But those stats say it more authoritatively, and are of great use in putting in perspective the mediocrity that is the Dodger lineup. I hope that the Dodgers are paying attention. Better stats might have helped prevent some of the horrible decisions made in recent years. Tom Goodwin - hello?
And though I hate to mention football as a role model, that sport has been using a complicated statistical formula for ranking quarterbacks for about 25 years. No one seems to mind.
Everyone who is a baseball fan should embrace OPS, if not EQA. They're great fun and easy to spell!
I wish I had Vin's number.
Changes at Dodger Stadium
I like the ideas, but I am holding my breath about how they will look.
Another scoreboard comment: Last year, the Dodgers stopped showing players' batting averages before each at-bat. Instead, we'd get information along the lines of Adrian Beltre was named to the all-time Vero Beach Dodger team. I strongly hope that trend will be reversed.
Brown is here
Hot off the MLB.com presses - Brown arrived at Vero Beach today.
And said the following:
It's a little unclear. Is he saying that if the reporting date were earlier, he'd already have been at Dodgertown today? Or is he saying that no matter what his obligation were, he wouldn't be at Dodgertown until today.
I think, scarily, that the more disturbing interpretation is the more likely one.
Brown also told the site that he thinks tests have discovered the source of his back trouble, but that he doesn't know how his back will behave once he starts throwing for real, because he, the site writes, "only played catch a few times over the winter with his family."
So much for training on your own.
I don't question whether Brown wants to do well and help the team. I'm questioning whether he knows how to do well and help the team. Does he realize that what worked in the past might not work anymore?
That's the question he needs to be asked. If he thinks, or if his teammates or the media lets him think, that the question is about his dedication, then he's going to have every reason to feel righteous.
It's not about his dedication. The question is, is Kevin Brown ignorant?
Hello? Backup Catcher Injured
I just read a four-day-old article on Dodgers.com that backup catcher David Ross has a broken foot.
While this doesn't merit the attention of 200,000 anti-war protesters in every major city, I don't know why papers like the Times have reporters covering Spring Training if they're not going to report this news.
Ken Gurnick adds that the injury may not prevent Ross from being able to play, but that Tracy hasn't ruled out only going with Paul Lo Duca and Todd Hundley - and going with 12 pitchers, instead of 11. This would allow the Dodgers to add a lefthander like Pedro Borbon, Jr. to the bullpen without having to dump a righty like Guillermo Mota.
In my opinion, if Ross can play, the Dodgers would still benefit more from a third catcher than a 12th pitcher, because Lo Duca would benefit from more rest and the flexibility that Ross would provide would encourage that. Either the Dodgers will have a pitcher like Brown or Dreifort in the bullpen, which would seem to eliminate the need for even more depth there, or one of those pitchers will be on the disabled list, at which point your 12th pitcher is really your 13th-best pitcher - and how much is that worth?
Honestly, have the Dodgers come to terms yet with the idea that they're going to have a starting pitcher in the bullpen? Are they actually going to train the potential starters-turned-relievers for that possibility? Or are they sort of hoping one of them remains injured?
Of course, we will wait and see.
Everybody Hates Kevin
Last night, on Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray was volunteering at a hospital. Question: If his fellow volunteers are at the hospital at 7 p.m., and he shows up at 7:05, is he late?
The reason I ask is because of headlines today like this one, on Dodgers.com, regarding Kevin BrownÕs absence from Dodgertown:
Tracy defends tardy Brown
It really strikes me as oxymoronic that you can be late for something voluntary. But I guess itÕs possible.
In any case, before passing judgment on Kevin Brown, letÕs make sure we have a clear understanding.
He isnÕt late for Spring Training. He has until February 26 to report Š eight days from now. Any insistence that he report sooner is a violation of the Basic Agreement between owners and players.
Despite the fact that most pitchers and catchers have been working out for days, despite the fact that a full-squad workout is scheduled for today, despite the fact the Dodgers have designated Thursday as Photo Day and despite the fact that the DodgersÕ first exhibition game is only one day after the mandatory reporting day, not one dollar of BrownÕs contract requires him to be in Vero Beach today.
So maybe itÕs a workersÕ rights issue for Kevin. Long live the proletariat!
I do believe that, family birthday parties aside, Brown should have been in Vero Beach with the rest of the pitchers. KevinÕs job is to help the Dodgers win a World Series (stop snickering) and his absence works against that goal. In addition to the divisiveness and ill-will it creates, the Dodger staff has made it clear that Brown is already behind when it comes to rounding into pitching form. This allows us to enter the stipulation into the record that BrownÕs private workouts in Georgia are no substitute for working out in Vero Beach.
I donÕt think the additional family time makes up the gap. And in any event, shouldnÕt the Dodgers at some point qualify as family for Brown?
Brown is no longer penciled in as the No. 1 starter Š in fact, for now, he is the No. 6 starter, as even Darren Dreifort has to be considered ahead of him, if only temporarily. So this very well could all blow over by the time spring is over, and maybe Brown knows that. Maybe Brown has a better perspective on life than anyone we know.
I donÕt want to vilify Brown for not being at the DodgersÕ voluntary Spring Training workouts. But I share in the disappointment, and itÕs all I can do not to brand him as a selfish jerk for this act.
Of course, no doubt there will be other moments down the road when the opportunity to brand Brown will recur.
Can I love the Dodgers without loving Kevin Brown? Can I love them while thinking that his character grows more selfish and irritating with each passing year?
Well, I love Everybody Loves Raymond without loving Ray Barone, thinking that his character grows more selfish and irritating with each passing year.
1) Chad Hermansen is acquired É while under anesthesia during shoulder surgery.
No word on whether the machine has been suspended or merely issued a warning.
The Proving Ground: Kinkade and Brown
Just a few quick notes today:
On the encouraging side: Mike Kinkade. Coming off a little preview, with an OPS of 1.083 in 50-plus plate appearances, not only has Kinkade been told that he doesnÕt have to win a roster slot this spring, but heÕs responding to the news by working harder.
"I'm coming down to make the team, that's my goal," Kinkade told the media. "Everybody wants to have a starting job and play every day in one spot. That's not going to be my role on this team unless something happens. My goal is to make it as a utility player."
There was a report that Kinkade has been working out a catcher, in addition to infield and outfield. IÕm a little skeptical about that - itÕs not like the Dodgers donÕt have a poor-fielding backup catcher in Todd Hundley - but I love the attitude.
In all honesty, I wonder if Kevin Brown has to earn a job this spring. The sentiment is that the Dodgers are tired of Brown dictating his recovery and when he is going to pitch, but that sentiment, for all I can tell, may only be coming from the beat writers. I donÕt know if the Dodgers are ready to seize the upper hand with Brown, especially considering their relaxed attitude, justified or not, toward his not working out for the team this winter and not arriving at Spring Training until today (at the earliest).
The players and staff are defending him. I wonder what theyÕll be saying about Brown five years from now. Maybe he is just as great a guy behind the scenes as they say. Not even Gary Sheffield popped off about him, as far as I know.
Anybody ski? ThereÕs an issue that comes with skiing - you buy an expensive lift ticket, and then you decide after an hour that itÕs too cold or youÕd just as soon stay indoors. Some people feel that once theyÕve spent all that money, they have to justify the expense by skiing all day. But a better philosophy is, youÕve spent the money, you might has well have the best day you can have - whether youÕre indoors or out.
Kevin BrownÕs lift ticket has been purchased. If heÕs a starting pitcher, great. If heÕs a reliever, oh well. If the conditions arenÕt that great, well, letÕs just have the best day we can. But letÕs not struggle hopelessly in a bad blizzard.
It also pleases me that the Dodgers havenÕt forgotten how truly miserable they were at bunting last year, and have made it an early issue in Spring Training. (Can anyone point me to some bunting stats?)
Reports say Kazuhisa Ishii won the first bunting competition of the spring. Since he bailed out of the plate last year like he was afraid of getting hit by the ball -- and that was before he got hit by the line drive on the head -- this is doubly encouraging. Unless all the other Dodger pitchers have become even skittish themselves.
Have you been reading about Tommy LasordaÕs comments about Felipe Alou. Are we supposed to take Lasorda seriously?
ItÕs never ceased to amaze me that professional athletes need bulletin board material to motivate them. I canÕt believe there is a level of effort that is held in reserve until someone from some other team pops off about them. And yet, you hear about this stuff all the time.
The combination of being mad at the speaker, and feeling insecure about whether you are doing your best, could inspire me to play harder (although frankly, I might just believe him and get depressed). But IÕm an amateur. WouldnÕt you think the pros would be above all this?
Brian Jordan is quoted as saying more little ball is coming. ŅWe shouldn't have to sit back and wait for the three-run home run. We're going to do a lot more."
I think I could find a quote like this every year from more than one Dodger. I know this was supposed to be a big part of Bill RussellÕs approach as manager, and IÕve heard Tracy advocate it as well.
But itÕs like the bunting thing. ItÕs all well and good to want to hit and run - who doesnÕt want to send a runner from first to third on a single? But unless you teach these guys to do it -- and apparently, major leaguers still need to be taught -- it ainÕt gonna happen. So hopefully, itÕs being taught this year, not just talked about. Think Mike Scioscia would leave the Angels to become a hit-and-run coach here?
I've been gettting reports of the site crashing. If this is happening to you, please e-mail me at ShiftyJ@aol.com. Let me know what kind of browser you use, if you would.
Traumatized in '67
For me, 1967-73 is the George Lazenby period of the Los Angeles Dodgers. They weren't as bad as they were innocuous.
The Dodgers missed the playoffs for seven consecutive years beginning in '67, their longest such streak in Los Angeles. I've never read much discussing why. The Dodgers are struggling in the current era, and the reasons are well chronicled. It's hard for me to believe that today's Dodgers, despite their lack of success, will ever become as forgotten as those 1967-73 Dodgers.
That team's streak of futility came on the heels of being shut out in the final 33 innings of a 1966 World Series sweep by Baltimore. It began in earnest, of course, with the retirement of Sandy Koufax on November 18, 1966.
The defending National League Champions didn't just miss the World Series in 1967. They fell all the way to eighth place. With Koufax and his 27 wins in 1966 gone, the Dodgers won 22 fewer games.
I came into this discussion knowing less about the 1967-73 period of Los Angeles Dodger history than any other, and wanting to fill that gap. And so I'm going to start in 1967, the year I was born, and the year the Los Angeles Dodgers as people had known them died.
There were other factors, as we'll see, but Koufax's departure really did seem to affect the team like a death in the family, engendering depression, listlessness and rage.
Let's start with the rage.
Less than two weeks after Koufax's announcement, two other popular Dodgers were traded. The first trade was on November 29, when outfielder Tommy Davis and a minor leaguer went to the Mets for Ron Hunt and Jim Hickman.
Meanwhile, a cadre of Dodgers were on a playing tour in Japan. Shortstop Maury Wills, hoping to use the offseason to recover from long-term nagging injuries, reluctantly agreed to go on the trip on the condition that he would only make public appearances, but wouldn't have to play.
However, Wills was put in the lineup right away - and encouraged to steal bases as well. He re-injured himself, decided enough was enough, and notified the Dodgers that he was going home. Owner Walter O'Malley refused to give permission, but Wills refused to let that stop him.
O'Malley contacted General Manager Buzzie Bavasi, who was on a six-week cruise with his family. As Bavasi recalled to Steve Delsohn: "While we're on board, I get a wire from O'Malley: GET RID OF WILLS, AND GET RID OF HIM TODAY." Wills was gone December 1, traded to Pittsburgh for infielders Gene Michael and Bob Bailey.
Wills' trade has been explained as a disciplinary move, setting an example for others (particularly African-Americans, it has also been speculated) that O'Malley would always be obeyed, or else. I haven't tracked down the rationale for the Tommy Davis trade, but the Dodgers do seem to have had a surplus of outfielders that would justify that move on purely on-field reasons.
If only as an aside, I can't help wondering if either of these trades were influenced by Koufax's retirement - especially the Wills trade. Koufax had made his break from the Dodgers on his terms - and perhaps O'Malley wanted to nip, or rather smash, that trend in the bud. Wills would not be allowed to leave the Dodgers - even an exhibition trip - without being punished.
People look at the Mike Piazza trade as a watershed moment of misfortune for the Dodgers. But in those two weeks in November 1966, the Dodgers fell harder, and would not recover for a long time.
In any case, because linking Wills and Davis with Koufax remains speculative, let's treat the events separately. Moving forward into 1967, how much of the Dodgers' demise can be attributed to Koufax, and how much to other factors?
The 1966 Los Angeles Dodgers
P Sandy Koufax (27-9, 1.73)
The 1967 Los Angeles Dodgers
P Claude Osteen (17-17, 3.22)
KOed in Round 1
There were other departures during the 1966-67 offseason worth mentioning. Jim Gilliam retired (for the second time, but this time it stuck). Third baseman John Kennedy was dumped a week before Opening Day.
The Dodgers started 0-4, got back to 6-7 - but were already 4.5 games behind the Reds. They then lost six out of seven to fall into ninth place, 7.5 games back. They didn't have their first three-game winning streak until mid-May.
An eight-game losing streak in June dropped them to 21-35, 15.5 games back. Their last gasp of hope was a stretch later that month in which they won 11 out of 15. But they lost 8 out of 9 to start July, falling again to 15.5 out.
Where did things go wrong?
Well, the absence of Koufax was noticeable immediately. The Dodgers pitching staff allowed 27 runs in its first three games.
Quickly, it was clear there would be no replacing #32. The man who ostensibly did, Bill Singer, was above-average, and came within a run of Koufax's 1.73 ERA. But Singer pitched more than 100 fewer innings. That put more responsibility on the rest of the staff - starters and bullpen.
If a single pitcher is to blame for the Dodgers' decline, it's future Hall-of-Famer Don Sutton. Shouldering more innings than the previous year, Claude Osteen tailed off slightly. But Sutton, pitching virtually the same amount as his rookie year, lost a 13-4 decision in the first start of his sophomore season and never really got it together. In fact, if you look at the ratio of his ERA to the league's, this was the worst season of his 23-year career - even as he was winding it down in 1988. Perhaps he, rather than Singer, acutely felt the pressure of replacing Koufax. Sutton is quoted as saying tears were in his eyes when he attended his mentor's retirement.
In addition to Sutton's and Osteen's innings, another 134 pitched by the Dodgers swingmen and relievers came in above the league average ERA in 1967. By comparison, in 1966, only one pitcher for the Dodgers, Jim Brewer, had an ERA above the league average, and he only pitched 22 innings. His 3.68 ERA made him the worst pitcher on the team.
Don Drysdale, oddly, showed how different consecutive 13-16 seasons can be. His ERA improved as the team got worse - even considering how offense declined in the '67 season. However, although Drysdale stepped up, and although some people have thought of Drysdale and Koufax as this great duo, this was not the case by 1966, let alone 1967. The Dodgers certainly would have withstood Drysdale's departure better than Koufax's. If they were going to overcome Koufax's retirement, they needed a huge infusion of offense.
It didn't happen.
Bring on the Collective Funk
The good news was, the Dodgers' shutout streak from the 1966 World Series ended on Opening Day, 1967. They scored one run.
Five 1966 lineup regulars returned in 1967 - and every single one of them saw a drop in OPS, including a 105-point decline by Jim Lefebvre and a 228-point collapse by Ron Fairly. Manager Walter Alston struggled against injuries and ineffectiveness as he assembled his daily lineup. In 1966, six of his starters played more than 140 games. The following year, only two did.
And then there were the new guys.
Wills was not that great in 1966. He hit .273, which I'm sure was considered admirable at the time, and stole 38 bases. But his OPS was a pedestrian .612, and he was caught stealing 24 times, rendering him a detriment on the basepaths, not an asset.
Oh, but his replacements. Gene Michael got the most action, and this is what he produced: a .202 average with 11 walks, one stolen base and four! extra-base hits in 98 games. The other shortstops that year, Dick Schofield and Nate Oliver, boasted OPS marks of .600 and .563.
There were two relatively bright spots. One was Al Ferrara in the outfield Š he helped cover for Lou Johnson, who broke an ankle.
The other, to a lesser extent, was Ron Hunt. At third base in 1966, Gilliam split time with Kennedy. Neither of them cracked the .600 barrier in OPS. The following year, Lefebvre moved over to third base, and Hunt, acquired in the Tommy Davis trade, served as the replacement for Kennedy/Gilliam, at second base. Hunt, who later would set single-season and career hit-by-pitch records, used 10 plunks in 110 games to catapault him into an OPS of .689.
So in terms of new blood, the Dodgers were weaker in one infield slot but stronger another - it almost cancels out. In the outfield, the additional play of Ferrara (who was a reserve in 1966) only helped. And yet, overall, the offense that averaged 3.74 runs per game in 1966 sunk to producing 3.20 runs in 1967.
The group slump of players who had been there both years, who had been there with Koufax (and Wills and Tommy Davis) and now were left behind, caused the bulk of that overall decline.
So it wasn't all Koufax's fault, right?
I would love to hear other explanations, from those who lived through that era and/or have additional research at hand. But - and here, abruptly and with my apologies, ends the empirical portion of this report - I really have come to believe that the retirement of Koufax sapped the Dodgers' will to win.
Perhaps the first sign of that was O'Malley's trade of Wills, one that might have indicated that obedience was more important than performance. In any case, of the five returning regulars, all but Roseboro were 27 years old or younger. Offense was slightly down in 1967, but not enough, as far as I can tell, to explain the individual decline of all these players. Something else was going on, I think. Like I said, I'm open to other explanations, but until I hear them, I have to think that Koufax had an even bigger impact than I realized.
Dodger fans went into their own mourning. Attendance dropped from 2.6 million in 1966 to 1.7 million in 1967.
The personnel was there in Los Angeles, if not to win the pennant, at least to compete for it. But the Dodgers never competed. NL champs the year before, they were blown out the opening week. And it would be seven years before they would see another postseason game, a streak that will remain unmatched unless (until) the 2003 Dodgers miss the playoffs.
Taking a Bite out of Crime Dog
Wow. Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, writing for ESPN.com, really laid into Fred McGriff today. I think it actually surpasses some of the worst things IÕve written about Eric Karros.
Though I hardly think McGriff will send the Dodgers into October, RogersÕ piece smashes past rational analysis into irrational diatribe.
Having watched McGriff play for the local Cubs since they acquired him during the 2001 pennant drive, Rogers writes:
It seemed an ideal situation to add a proven run-producer like McGriff, who came to Chicago on July 29, with the Cubs 3Z games ahead of Houston and 7Z ahead of St. Louis. But it turned out to be a zero-sum move.
McGriff put up numbers, but the Cubs sunk to third in the Central, going 28-31 after the deal. That formula was followed again in '02.
McGriff, who will be 39 when he reports to Dodgertown, hit 42 home runs and drove in 144 runs in his 195 games with the Cubs. Yet the team that had a .583 winning percentage when he arrived played .430 baseball with him on the roster.
This follows four seasons when he was The Man for the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, willing them to a 235-354 record. That's a personal .407 winning percentage for the last five years. This is a one-man tribute to the Cleveland Spiders.
ItÕs odd enough to attribute the CubsÕ 2001-2002 downfall so single-mindedly to McGriff, especially when the only numbers you cite are positive ones. (ItÕs not that negative ones canÕt be found, so why not bring them in?)
But to pin McGriff with the cringeworthy seasons of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an organization teeming in rotten players and management, is downright obtuse. And again, Rogers provides no numbers to back up this assessment.
This was more than a critical article. This was a mean article. Whether or not Rogers has a personal axe to grind against McGriff, his article reeks of it. Whatever his motives, I would think Rogers would at least want to avoid that appearance. But either he doesn't care, or he doesn't get it.
Rob NeyerÕs Hot Stove Heater on the Dodgers, on the other hand, was on the money. I particularly love his point that everyone feared that when Fox bought the Dodgers, the Dodgers would spend their way to pennant after pennant - but no one imagined they could spend their money so foolishly.
My biggest disagreement with the Neyer article Š and itÕs really minor Š is he suggests that when the inevitable injury strikes one of the Dodgers position players, like McGriff or Brian Jordan, no one on the bench will be good enough to fill in.
I agree that the bench is lousy, but I donÕt know that McGriff and Jordan are so much better that they canÕt be covered for a decent stretch. I think that along as Shawn Green stays healthy, the Dodger offense will be what it is no matter what Š pretty damn mediocre. Only if Green were to be hurt would a true collapse occur.
SI.com gave the Dodgers a C- for their offseason moves, writing that "the Dodgers did little to address their needs over the winter and failed to re-sign several players, including 1B Eric Karros and OF Marquis Grissom."
Considering Si.com wrote only one paragraph about each team, this sentence is too sloppy to pass without comment. They didn't fail to re-sign Karros - they traded him with a year left on his contract. And they didn't fail to re-sign Grissom, they chose not to. An important distinction. Neither player, if still on the team, would improve the team's offseason performance one bit.
The Dodgers could have used an impact hitter and an impact pitcher, and did not get either, so in one sense, the overall grade is accurate. What bothers me more, though, is some moves that were made that probably won't help the team now and will hurt the team down the road.
A Flood of Memories
Last month, the main pipe for my buildingÕs sprinkler system burst, flooding the garage with several feet of water in a matter of minutes. The water seeped into our storage unit and reached two of the boxes that hold my newspaper and magazine collection.
YouÕd think I would have learned. A hot water heater that tore away from its moorings in our basement during the 1994 Northridge quake took out a bunch of World Series programs I had collected. But no, I am not a good learner.
Anyway, in rescuing papers from the box, I did find a dry copy of the Top 10 NL West Prospects issue of Baseball America from March 1993. The text within is nothing if not É poignant.
1) Mike Piazza, C, 24
2) Raul Mondesi, OF, 21
3) Roger Cedeno, OF, 18
4) Greg Hansell, RHP, 21
5) Pedro Martinez, RHP, 21
6) Todd Williams, RHP, 21
7) Billy Ashley, OF, 22
8) Omar Daal, LHP, 20
9) Todd Hollandsworth, OF, 19
10) Rick Gorecki, RHP, 19
Murray is now a Dodger non-roster invitee, the only person in this entry with the team.
All's well that ends well. What about all that doesn't end well? Is it not well, or could it also have been well?
(No, of course I don't know what that means. But somehow it gives me closure.)
If You Take Anything From This Article, Take This: A Scoreboard in the Shape of a Box Score
All-Star Fever - catch it? Or douse it with antibiotics?
I'll take the fever, thanks.
On ESPN.com's MLB Insider page Monday, Jim Baker commented on the issue of how long some teams have gone since hosting an All-Star Game. The Dodgers ranked seventh, not counting recent expansion teams, having not hosted the event since 1980.
Here are the ten-most All-Star Game-deprived clubs:
In an e-mail exchange we had, Jim wondered aloud how badly some cities would even want to host the All-Star Game in coming years. Last yearÕs 7-7 tie wouldn't have helped, pushing the event closer to the more-trouble-than-it's-worth category. I think people really overreacted to the ŅhorrorÓ of that game, though, and I'd hate to think that no one wants to host anymore. They'd be depriving baseball fans of a chance at a singular event that they will remember for a long time.
The thing is, sometimes you just need a catalyst to preserve some good memories, even if that catalyst itself turns out to be imperfect. I bet even many of those who went to last year's tie game will look back on it fondly, even if it's to fondly reminisce how they got cheated of a victor. I know I remember my first All-Star game pretty damn well, considering it was 22 years ago. Even though that 1980 game wasn't a classic, it's fun recalling it.
My memories of that game:
1) Ken Griffey (aka Ken Griffey Sr., as he came to be known) was the MVP. He hit a home run, and that was it, but that was all it took.
2) Jerry Reuss pitched and got the win. In fact, a lot of Dodgers were on the team, and some with shaky stats. I'm not gonna look it up, but my recollection is that Davey Lopes was voted into the starting lineup with an average near .208. These days, the Dodgers don't have the popularity to pull that off - I can't imagine they've had a starter voted in since Mike Piazza.
Here's my other Jerry Reuss story. I was at summer camp around 1979, on a sleepaway hike. We came upon an old, at least temporarily abandoned cabin. There were some old newspapers left to be used in the fireplace - including a sports section from the NL playoffs in what had to be 1974 or 1976. Jerry Reuss was in the box score, pitching for the Pirates. I was young enough to be equally fascinated that there was this old sports section here in this cabin, and that Jerry Reuss had had success even before coming to the Dodgers.
3) The Dodgers' Diamond Vision scoreboard made its official debut. Back then, it was cutting edge. Now, even though it's slightly larger, I think it's about to approach quaint. I have long had an idea about what the Dodgers - or any team - should do with their score-by-innings/lineup scoreboard, though. It should be vertical, and display a live box score, updated with each batter. It seems eminently doable, and would be a real hit, don't you think?
4) My Dad got us tickets. We got season tickets to the Dodgers in 1982, but before then, it was still a surprise to get any tickets to a game. For a game as popular as this - the first All-Star game ever in Dodger Stadium and the first in Los Angeles since 1959 - honestly, I don't know how he came through. But he did. I wonder if I'll have the same magic for my kids. Jim figured that if things go according to fairness, Dodger Stadium will get the game again in 2016. My little girl will be 13 years old then - won't that be something.
Anyway, I know it's an exhibition. I know managers and players and commissioners are very confused about what their roles should be once they arrive. But don't dismiss the All-Star Game. It's a good part of being a baseball fan.
Box-score scoreboard ... Box-score scoreboard ... Box-score scoreboard É
Batting Second in this Report, Paul Lo Duca
In his National League preview, Peter Gammons put the Dodgers seventh. They topped a second tier of teams in the National League, but trailed St. Louis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Arizona, Houston and Atlanta.
This seems reasonable.
However there were some oddities in GammonsÕ writeup on the Dodgers. For example, there was this sentence:
Doctors say [DreifortÕs] knee could be a problem as he gets up and down in the bullpen, so he may start, which along with Brown will require a sixth starter.
Can you translate this sentence for me? Is he implying a six-man rotation? Do starting pitchers not Ņget up and down?Ó What does ŅwhichÓ modify?
Gammons also wrote that Ņone big factor is that with McGriff in the middle of the lineup, catcher Paul Lo Duca can go back to the two hole and stop trying to carry the team.Ó
I get the sense that some scout or Dodger organization man fed Gammons this. In any case, IÕm not sure the numbers bear out what Gammons is saying.
Lo DucaÕs OPS by batting position:
What really stands out is that .971 in the leadoff slot in Õ01. He had an on-base percentage of .378 and a slugging percentage of .593, hitting a home run every 13.5 at-bats batting first. By comparison, Dave Roberts OPS in 2002 was merely .697.
In any case, I donÕt really see enough consistency in Lo DucaÕs numbers to draw any firm conclusions, but with that .867 OPS in the No. 3 hole, itÕs hard to make the argument that Ņcarrying the teamÓ dragged down LoDucaÕs production. IÕm guessing there were other issues involved.
HereÕs an interesting if no more conclusive chart Š Lo DucaÕs OPS by month in 2002:
YouÕd think July and August should be flip-flopped. Essentially, the Dodgers seemed to cover up for Lo Duca during his worst month of the year.
I donÕt know what LoDuca will produce in his third season as a regular. But the Dodgers of 2002 didnÕt really depend on him offensively Š his numbers offensively were barely better than KarrosÕ numbers were. (The difference is, LoDuca is a catcher, a position offense is at a premium. At first base, itÕs another story.)
Gammons is correct about one thing Š if Lo Duca is forced to carry the Dodgers, then they are in trouble. But itÕs a fallacy to imply that Lo Duca was carrying the Dodgers last year Š Shawn Green, Odalis Perez and Hideo Nomo were. If this misconception needs to be clarified for the competitive Lo Duca so that he doesnÕt press, it needs to be done verbally, not passive-aggressively through his batting order position.
Eric Karros: Sparring Partner
I woke up this morning realizing that overnight I had dreamed that Eric Karros had hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the 17th inning at Wrigley Field to give the Cubs a victory over the Dodgers.
I had been thinking about writing about Karros 2003, and decided this would be the day. Then I got the Times and saw that Ross Newhan had beaten me to the punch. Man, I hate getting scooped.
But moving forward ...
First of all, what does this dream represent? Feelings of anxiety, certainly. Fear of betrayal? Fear of having misjudged? Too much preoccupation with the Dodgers? Latent wish-fulfillment based on the idea that I would want all ex-Dodgers, no matter who they were, to succeed?
It is true that, long, long ago, I was a Karros fan. Seems hard to believe now - Grandma Sue, who teases me about my antipathy for Karros every time we go to a game - would not dream it possible.
But in May 1992, as the Dodgers' fortunes and my own simultaneously spiraled downward, Karros hit a pinch-hit, three-run, bottom-of-the-ninth home run to beat the Pirates. Karros gave me a big lift that night - I even thought about writing him a letter to thank him. I didn't follow through, but clearly, consciously if not unconsciously as well, that homer has stuck with me.
Though I am much happier now, anxieties remain. And for better or worse, Eric Karros will not be part of the solution. As a Cub, there isn't much he can do to make me feel better about myself, the world, life in general.
But will he be part of the problem? Will Eric Karros come back to haunt me, in my waking hours in addition to my dreams.
Here are some of the basic possibilities:
--Buoyed by the easier hitting conditions of Wrigley Field, Karros' numbers could go up. Burdened by the tougher hitting conditions of Dodger Stadium, the numbers of Karros' replacement, Fred McGriff, could go down. Though McGriff might still be the better player for the Dodgers, superficial fans will scream "I told you the Karros trade was dumb."
--Karros plays poorly against the rest of the league, but torches the Dodgers here and at Wrigley.
--Karros can't beat out Hee Seop Choi for a starting role and languishes on the bench.
I am hoping the Dodgers made the right decision in getting rid of Karros for their sake, but I admit that I also have the same hope for my sake. I really don't want my opinion of this move to be wrong.
It's not like I'm in the minority among those who analyze the game about Karros' potential effectiveness. But for whatever reason, I feel I have a great deal invested in having drawn this particular conclusion. I've been on Eric Karros' back the way UCLA basketball fans have been on Steve Lavin's. For years, we've been fed up with the Karros/Lavin weaknesses - and even fed up with their occasional successes, because those successes would enable the weaknesses to continue.
Well, now Lavin is going, and Karros is gone. The punching bags are being removed. What will take their place? Will a new punching bag emerge? And, if Karros somehow manages to reverse his downward spiral and have a great year, will that punching bag be me?
Thumbs Up (?)
A neutral party as far as I can tell, Chris Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus, gave the Dodgers' offseason moves a fairly positive review - some of which in contrast to what I've been saying.
Do I agree with him? Not completely. But he makes a better case than the mainstream media coverage of the Dodgers has.
I also appreciate any and all references to Strat-o-Matic baseball.
...Actually, no. (I mean, yes about Strat-o-Matic, no about the better case for the Dodgers.) I'm rereading Kahrl 20 minutes later and finding myself not convinced. I was swayed originally because I agree about McGriff and that Chad Hermansen has the potential not to be awful as a backup. But I still don't think they should have given up pitching for Ward, and most of the other guys mentioned as insurance remain dubious to me. I've never heard of Chris Clapinski, much less the news of the Dodgers acquring him. Maybe that just makes me ignorant, but as a 31-year-old who hasn't played in the majors since 2000, he doesn't inspire much salivation, either.
Almost Makes Me Want To Love Him All Over Again
From the Associated Press:
There had been speculation the Yankees were trying to deal the strong-armed right fielder, possibly to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"If they trade me to another big league team, there's no problem,'' Mondesi said Wednesday. "It would be difficult if they traded me to a football or basketball team because I don't know how to play that.''
Really, Raul, you're too modest...
No. 6 for the Dodgers ...
If there is one player most identified with the Dodgers from the 1970s, that player is Steve Garvey.
But by the measure of OPS, not once was Garvey the best hitter on his team - not even during Garvey's National League MVP year of 1974:
1974 Garvey .811 -- Jimmy Wynn, .884
Heck, even Eric Karros led the Dodgers in OPS once, in 1998.
Though some would point to the Dodgers' failure to resign Garvey after the 1982 season as one of the lowpoints of the pre-Fox era in Los Angeles, by 1982 Garvey trailed Guerrero, Baker, Ken Landreaux, Cey and even Rick Monday in OPS among Dodgers who played 100 or more games that year - making the No. 6 on his uniform ever so appropriate.
Keep in mind, also, that Garvey played an easier defensive position than the rest of these players. Garvey's production, after years of consistency, was declining sharply - much like Karros in recent years.
The much maligned Greg Brock, Garvey's replacement in 1983, hit only .224 but walked 83 times with 20 home runs, giving him an OPS of .739 that was also sixth on the team. Not nearly what one would hope for in replacing a legend, but not as bad as it seemed at the time.
For his part, Garvey went to San Diego in 1983 and for the first time in his career, led his team in OPS, producing a .803 mark. Of course, other than a young Tony Gwynn, the Padres didn't have the talent that the Dodgers had during those years.
Unfortunately for Garvey, 1983 was the year he finally got hurt, playing in only 100 games. This was more or less his last gasp as a productive player. Garvey then finished his career with OPS marks of .680, .748, .692 and .507.
Steve Garvey has always been a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame, and each year it looks more and more like he won't make it. This is not meant to kick him while he's down. It's more to point out that if we looked at things then the way we are tending to now, not even Garvey's senatorial image would have ensured him being viewed as the most vital cog on the Dodgers.
A Bad Call
Not that I couldn't have commented on this before, but since the Bruce Froemming story became a Dodger story today, I feel a little more compelled.
First of all, this is a great decision by the Dodgers. There are certainly plenty of other umpires that you can hire to work a fantasy camp before you use someone who called his supervisor a "stupid Jew bitch" on the telephone. Talk about an umpire's bad call.
Going beyond that, there's the issue of Froemming's punishment by Major League Baseball. His remark cost him a 10-day suspension and a trip to Tokyo to work MLB's opening day.
He shouldn't have gotten anything less. I think his remarks are sufficiently insubordinate, insensitive and destructive to the workplace to merit suspension.
Some say he should have been fired. At least one person has compared this to Al Campanis' egregious remarks about African Americans on Nightline.
Campanis' actions called into question his qualifications to supervise the control of players' careers, so whatever his previous track record, I supported and still support the decision to fire him. I don't know if anyone's going to check Shawn Green's batting stats when Froemming has been behind home plate, but barring any remarkable evidence of that sort, I don't know that the situations are greatly analogous.
However, I do think Froemming, as an on-field supervisor, deserves more of a suspension than John Rocker got for his awful remarks about minorities and others in an interview with Sports Illustrated. Rocker was originially suspended for 45 days of Spring Training and the first 28 days of the regular season. That suspension was later reduced to 0 days of Spring Training and 14 days of the regular season - still more than Froemming has gotten.
Froemming's excuse for making the remarks was that he thought he had hung up the phone - and by the way, he told the press, "There was no anti-Semitism whatsoever on my part.''
This looks like a bad call all around.
LetÕs Hope Those Ballet Lessons Are Worth It
Éand Shawn Green as Timmy Lupus?
Darren Dreifort may not have much in common with Shaquille OÕNeal, much less Tatum OÕNeal, but there is this:
Shaquille OÕNeal, who has a lucrative contract for many dollars to play the Lakers, has been plagued by injuries (to his toe).
Tatum OÕNeal, who had a lucrative contract for many ballet lessons to play for the Bad News Bears, was plagued by injuries (to her elbow).
Darren Dreifort may not now, yet or ever be has valuable to the Dodgers as those two were to their teams, but he is their third-highest paid player. And to be sure, he has been plagued by injuries Š he hasnÕt pitched in a game since June 29, 2001.
Based on how much has been written about him this offseason, no one seems to care about DreifortÕs fate. But he is arguably the DodgersÕ biggest story entering 2003.
Sidebar - Top 5 questions facing the 2003 Dodgers:
Monday, reliever Giovanni Carrara signed his contract for 2003. In todayÕs Los Angeles Times:
He has been used primarily as a set-up man and middle reliever, but General Manager Dan Evans said Carrara could move to the rotation if Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort don't return from injuries.
Dreifort was actually expected to pitch late last year in his first attempt to come back from arm surgery, but injured his knee. The idea that he might still not be ready to pitch, that Dan Evans is talking about Carrara, in addition to injury-riddled non-roster signee Wilson Alvarez, as potential starting pitchers is a very underplayed story this offseason.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in a week, with several weeks to go before the regular season starts, and so there will be plenty of time to talk about it then. But in a city where Shaquille OÕNealÕs toe was written about virtually every week of the NBA offseason, the Dreifort and Brown situation merits concern now.
Though Brown is owed $45 million through 2005 and Dreifort is owed $35 million, I think DreifortÕs the bigger story because he is only 30 years old right now, whereas Brown is 37. Even though Brown has had by far the better career, Dreifort has the greater potential for recovery. He is the biggest X-factor on a team that barely missed the playoffs the past two seasons, and no oneÕs talking about it.
Darren Dreifort in the role of Tatum OÕNeal? The Dodgers in the role of The Bad News Bears? Fox in the role of ChicoÕs Bail Bonds?
ItÕs worth watching.
The Bridegrooms as Bridesmaids
The Dodgers, who were known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms for several years in the late 1800s, have played six consecutive seasons without making the playoffs Š their most since a seven-season streak from 1967-73.
It could be worse (and indeed, it can still be worse).
Longest streaks without postseason play for the Dodgers since 1900 (keeping in mind that only two teams made the postseason until 1969):
If youÕre reading this, you probably know that the Dodgers havenÕt won a postseason game since 1988 Š 14 seasons. So the top two streaks above are what they are challenging for true postseason futility.
In researching this, I actually found something even more interesting, or at least surprising.
In their long history, the Dodgers have not played a postseason game in more than two consecutive seasons.
They almost broke the streak in the mid-1990s. They were leading the NL West in 1994 when the strike hit and wiped out the postseason. The Dodgers then won the division in 1995 and the wild card in 1996.
Surprising to me, anyway.
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Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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