Monthly archives: March 2003
Opening Day Running Commentary
I'll sneak in some thoughts when I can...
I love it - we are playing ball!
Nomo follows his 11 with a 9.
Nope - K for Nomo. Only one by Johnson in his first run through the lineup. But Roberts and Lo Duca can't bring the run in. Johnson's thrown 38 pitches through three - no big deal for him. Still Dodgers 1, Diamondbacks 0 heading into the bottom of the third.
Nomo started with first-pitch balls to all three batters in the first. Now, with two out in the third, six out of eight batters have taken the first pitch. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a strategy to take pitches on Nomo, perhaps the wildest good pitcher in baseball (now that Johnson isn't wild anymore, and Ishii may not be that good).
Johnson, at the plate, takes a ball and a strike before grounding out. Three innings, 31 pitches for Nomo. That's as good as he can be - phenomenal for him. I doubt he had more than a handful of three-inning stretches like that last year.
Running on Johnson is something to consider - you just have to weigh the difficulty of getting runners home against Johnson vs. the difficulty of getting them on in the first place. I might play it a little conservative, or at least try more hit-and-run.
Tony Womack returns the favor to the Dodgers in the bottom of the fourth - out trying to stretch a double into a triple. That helps Nomo get through the fourth with 12 pitches - 43 for the game. But I think Steve Finley was the first to get a three-ball count off of him - and then Spivey did it too. Is some of the sharpness Nomo started the game with starting to dissipate?
Ugh. Double play.
And Nomo goes down meekly. 1-0 Dodgers into the bottom of the fifth.
Getting tougher for Nomo. He needs 11 pitches - his total number of pitches in the first inning - to record his first out here in B5. But after Bautista flies out, Luis Gonzalez, who singled, is caught stealing. Baserunners thrown out today: Dodgers 2, Diamondbacks 2.
That gets Nomo out of the fifth with 60 total pitches - 29 in the past two innings. Still not bad. His spot in the batting order may not come again until after the seventh inning.
Green grounds to first and Roberts holds, validating my point.
But then Brian Jordan makes all of us look good - himself the most - with a two-run homer to left...
Now it's just a matter of the Dodger pitching staff holding the questionable Diamondbacks lineup to two runs over four innings. And Johnson may have to come out of the game now - he's due up third.
Nomo gets a first-pitch strike on Lyle Overbay to start the bottom of the sixth. Is it just me, or does that one pitch energize you after scoring in the top of the inning. Overbay flies out, and then Moeller strikes out on three pitches.
Johnson stays in but also strikes out on three pitches. An eight-pitch sixth inning for Nomo with two strikeouts. Fantastic for him.
Didn't Nomo blast a double of Johnson last season? Yeah, he did. It's his only career hit off of him.
Well, Nomo strikes out for the third time. Johnson only has two other strikeouts.
A hit-by-pitch - ouch - loads the bases for Lo Duca. Can he bust it open? (Not to get greedy.) Johnson's at 92 pitches now - would they relieve?
Talk to me - a two-run single. 5-0 Dodgers.
Now here's where any mortal pitcher would come out of the game. You have to think Green is the last batter Johnson will face.
Especially now that Green has walked to load the bases again for Jordan, who homered his last time up. Yep - Johnson's done.
Now it's time to see what Jim Tracy does in 2003 with his defense when he has a late-inning lead. Candidates for substitution: Jordan, Cabrera and McGriff. He may wait an inning or so, but I would guess that at least the first two of these are gone by the ninth.
In fact, it starts with Alex Cora in for Cabrera.
Into the bottom of the seventh ... a little trouble for Nomo - two on with two out. No Hall-of-Famers coming up, but the Diamondbacks wouldn't be as successful as they've been if guys like Danny Bautista couldn't get a clutch hit.
But Bautista grounds out, and Nomo's through seven. In 80 pitches. This just is not Hideo Nomo. This is like vintage Kevin Brown. Will Nomo carry the Dodgers straight through to Gagne - or even past him?
Izturis is up with Beltre on second and two out. One would assume the Diamondbacks would walk even as weak a hitter as Izturis to force the Dodgers to forfeit Nomo, either at the plate or on the mound. And so it goes. Izturis now has a 1.750 OPS on the season.
Boy - Opening Day, two outs, two on in the eighth inning in a Randy Johnson-started game, and Nomo bats. Who'd have thought? So, can Nomo get the golden sombrero at the plate?
Talk to me.
So, Nomo's no hitting wonder. But, he slides through the eighth inning, allowing a single but striking out two. Did Nomo think that everyone on the Dodger staff was suspended for hitting Mike Piazza with a pitch. Eight innings, four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, 91 pitches.
Does the lead seem big enough that we're killing time now until the bottom of the inning? Roberts singles, and Lo Duca has fouled off three pitches in a row. He strikes out, but Green doubles for the second time, Jordan is walked intentionally to load the bases, and with a newbie named Stephen Randolph on the hill for Arizona, it's starting to feel like Spring Training never ended. A quick search on ESPN.com for information on Randolph - and there are no stats on him. Looks like this is his first major-league game. All they have to tell me is that he's 28, throws and bats left, was born on May 1, 1974 in Okinawa, Japan, attended Galveston (Texas) Junior College, and his full name is Stephen LeCharles Randolph.
The training continues. McGriff walks to get his first Dodger RBI, and it's 6-0.
The Diamondbacks have to rescue Randolph with Miguel Batista - once a key Arizona starter, now doing mopup. Although Schilling may mitigate these effects tomorrow, the Diamondback bullpen is getting a workout on day 1. Bullpen rest is always a nice advantage to have at the start of a series. Guess that means that I don't need any more tidbits on Randolph. Too bad - I just found out he won 15 games last year for AAA Tuscon and went 15-for-45 at the plate.
RBIs from Beltre and Cora off Batista make it 8-0 before, with Nomo's spot on deck, Izturis ends the inning. A total of 166 pitches for Arizona today.
Nomo comes out for the ninth. I was wrong about the defense, though - Jordan and McGriff are still in. Top of the order for Arizona. Womack grounds out. Finley grounds out. Can Nomo finish off the Diamondbacks in under 100 pitches? He's at 96 when Junior Spivey comes up.
With two strikes on him, Spivey fouls off pitch number 99. On #103, Spivey grounds out.
A masterpiece for Nomo and the Dodgers today.
I guess I managed to sneak in my handful of comments. What a fun game. After all the Spring Training buildup, this, if nothing else, was well worth the wait.
Some tidbits about the Arizona lineup as we get started ...
...The Diamondbacks are awful at the top of the lineup. Their leadoff hitter, Tony Womack, hasn’t broken .700 in OPS in three seasons. He’s often followed in the lineup by third baseman Craig Counsell, whose OPS last season was .699. The left side of the Arizona infield is worthy of Tampa Bay.
...Luis Gonzalez has declined - into simply being an outstanding batter (.896 OPS in 2002) instead of an unbelievable one (1.117 OPS in 2001).
...Catcher Damian Miller, traded to the Cubs, might not be missed, if Chad Moeller can make a most of his .852 OPS in 2002 stand up with more than 120 plate appearances.
...Steve Finley is never mundane - the 38-year-old is either great or disappointing. His OPS numbers the past three seasons are .905, .767 and .869. Did you know he has over 2,000 career hits? He still figures to have some value left.
...Third and fourth outfielders Danny Bautista (.867 OPS) and Quentin McCracken (.825 OPS) both have higher OPS marks than the Dodgers’ second-best hitting outfielder, Brian Jordan (.807 OPS). But when you use OPS+, which takes park effects into account, Jordan and Bautista are tied at 119, followed by McCracken at 110.
It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame...
...for a ballgame, today.
It's a beautiful day for a home run
... with sincere thoughts going to Jack Clark, to his speedy recovery, and to inspiring others to wear a helmet if they must ride a motorcycle, even if the law in their state doesn't require wearing one.
Now ... pull up a chair for Opening Day, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks!
6 for 37, .162
Those are Jason Romano's Spring Training stats. See, I told you, Spring Training numbers don't matter.
Meanwhile, Joe Thurston could have the best attitude in the world and still wonder how Romano could be on the team instead of him.
Yeah, Romano on the team is a huge upset in my mind - bigger than Steve Colyer or Tom Martin. I'm not going to put too much significance on it, though. I'm still surprised that in the end, the Dodgers didn't go with what could have, at worst, been a double platton of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora at shortstop, and Thurston and Jolbert Cabrera at second base. However, I'm still gonna bet that Thurston is back up by May 1, meaning that Cabrera can go back to being the true Derrel Thomas-like utility man instead of platooning at second base, and Romano can go to Las Vegas.
But finally, this battle for the 25th roster spot - baseball's version of college basketball's NIT - is over. Let's remember to count how many games Romano helps the Dodgers win this year.
Do No Wrong ... Do No Right
Five weeks ago he was the answer to everything, but today the papers still have Joe Thurston going down to the minors, even though he has been getting on base once or twice a game this week. Maybe a single off Troy Percival last night will make a positive impression.
Again, I don't think it's the end of the world if Thurston starts the season in Las Vegas, particularly while Guillermo Mota is suspended. But Thurston was on the team when Spring Training opened. If you're going to justify sending him down based on his slow start at the beginning of March, can't you justify keeping him based on his improved play at the end of March?
If they send him down, I'd really like there to be a strong message that he's coming back soon.
You Know You Screwed Up When ...
Vin Scully, usually the definition of cheerfulness, has hardly ever sounded more disgusted on the air than he did during Friday's Dodger-Angel broadcast.
Scully talked about how the Dodgers, under the Kevin Malone regime, told Mike Scioscia that he had no future with the organization.
"Unbelievable," said Scully, the distaste in his voice unmistakable.
Scully went on to press the point - making it seemingly apparent where he thought the blame lay - noting that Scioscia is now a World Champion, and Malone is "gone."
Tom Goodwin Flies, and So Does Time
From the Chicago Cubs site on MLB.com:
The moves mean non-roster invitees Harris and Goodwin have made the team. Harris, 38, is the Major League's all-time pinch-hit leader with 173 hits off the bench. He hit .305 in 122 games with Milwaukee last year.
Goodwin has a career .269 average over nine big-league seasons. He can fly -- the 34-year-old outfielder showed that when he hit a triple Wednesday.
"I love speed. That's one thing I haven't had in a long time," Baker said.
... Goodwin batted .260 for Baker and the San Francisco Giants last season, appearing in 78 games.
Alternate NL West Preview
Another reason I didn't pull together an NL West preview is because on Thursday, Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog did an incredibly thorough analysis of the division. His case for the Giants is particularly persuasive (unfortunately).
Aaron is still a college student but it looks like he's got a really bright future in this business if he goes on to pursue it. His insights and attention to detail, combined with his sense of humor, should take him pretty far.
Who the Hell Knows?
Today was the day I was going to do season predictions, but there’s just no point. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t know if teams have ever seemed closer together to me, and there more Ifs and ?s than I know what to do with.
Can the addition of Hideki Matsui help the Yankees overcome the mediocre defense that the Angels exposed last fall, and hold off the luckless Red Sox? I’m starting to doubt that, but I have no idea.
Can the White Sox leapfrog the Twins? Tell me first if former Hall-of-Fame lock Frank Thomas has anything left.
What will win out with the Angels - the boost of having John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez for an entire season, or the bad omens of injuries to Troy Glaus and Jarrod Washburn in March?
Will my theory about the Phillies - good players, self-destructive manager - be proven with a weaker Braves team winning their division?
Can the Cubs make a move under intense scrutiny behind a great young pitching staff and Dusty Baker - with you know who also playing significant roles?
NL West? The Giants are probably the favorites, because of lineup weakness and rotation uncertainties with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. But is there a bigger “what if?” than Los Angeles?
The way I see it, eight teams in the American League and nine teams in the National League have clear shots at playoff berths - and that’s without guessing at this year’s version of the out-of-nowhere team like the Angels. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all too close to call. If I had better ideas, I'd share them. But instead, I'm just gonna sit back, without the pressure of expectations, and enjoy it all.
And Now, the Stomach Ache
Do you realize that as it stands now, the Cubs could field a starting lineup one day soon that features Eric Karros at first, Mark Grudzielanek at second, Lenny Harris at third and Tom Goodwin in center?
Time to Pig Out
LOS ANGELES, March 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Baseball fans around the country and here at Dodger Stadium have plenty of choices when it comes to food! As the players take the field for the 2003 season, fans will enjoy a variety of dining options meant to satisfy the needs of families, kids, and those die- hard traditionalists! NEW items on the public stands menus this year include ...
-- Deluxe Nachos Grande
In 2001, Giovanni Carrara and Matt Herges were mainstays of the Dodger bullpen. They combined for 184 innings, 15 wins and a B-plus ERA, if you will, of 3.33.
Wednesday, both players were released by two different teams - Carrara by the Dodgers, Herges by Pittsburgh.
Herges looks like the more perplexing case. Despite the fact that the struggling Pirates had traded two top prospects to Montreal for him only months ago, and despite his Spring Training ERA of 1.93, Pittsburgh chose to keep a third left-handed reliever in another ex-Dodger, Dennys Reyes, over Herges.
One of my loyal readers told me of reports that Reyes, who has a Spring Training ERA of 7.71, was throwing well. Still, I have trouble understanding the choice.
Carrara, meanwhile, was clearly the Dodgers most expendable reliever, assuming that Guillermo Mota doesn’t get in any more High Noons. More than Carrara's exhibition ERA of 8.31 this year, you can look at the fact that last year, Carrara made a habit of allowing inherited runners to score. These didn’t show up in his ERA, but they may well have shown up in Dan Evans’ consciousness.
I will always wonder whether Carrara’s 2002 season - and in turn, perhaps his career with the Dodgers - was ruined the night of May 7, when the Dodgers were forced into a 16-inning game with Atlanta and Tracy kept Carrara out to pitch a career-high five innings of relief. A useless Terry Mulholland was still left in the bullpen - illustrating the perils of a wasted roster spot.
In any case, had I known that Carrara’s 2003 contract was not guaranteed until today, this would have been even easier to see coming. I really need to get on top of those details.
All in all, it’s a good move by the Dodgers - keeping a comparable or better player at a position where they have less depth, be that player Tom Martin or Steve Colyer or Wilson Alavarez. This is not like keeping Quilvio Veras instead of Joe Thurston - this is like keeping Mike Kinkaide instead of Quilvio Veras.
Colyer, despite his youth, had a fine season in the minors last year, and you could see coming on as a candidate all spring. As I've said before, he's probably the best of the bunch.
Martin, on the other hand, I didn’t take seriously at all. Not that I wasn’t familiar with him - not only had he pitched well in his rookie year (1997), with a 2.09 ERA for Houston, but he was an excellent player to have in my Strat-o-Matic league that year. But since then, the guy has been injured so often, that I just didn’t take him seriously. His career ERA has risen to 5.45.
The likely move is to keep Martin or Alvarez and send Colyer, who has options, down to Las Vegas. Again, it would help me to know Martin’s contract situation. If his major-league deal is well above the minimum, then you have to weigh your investment in him against the likelihood he will earn some of that money on the disabled list, not to mention his poor performance in recent years.
Perhaps Carrara, if he resigns a minor-league contract, will return someday.
And Herges? Could he do much worse than Pittsburgh? It’s late in Spring Training, but he may end up happier in the long run.
P.S.: Whether Thurston deserves any
P.S.: Whether Thurston deserves any of this consideration in the first place, based on batting average numbers that playing in Las Vegas no doubt inflated, I'm not going to argue.
Bad Arguments for a Good Idea
In the Times today, Bill Plaschke writes:
Is the Dodgers' need to promote the future larger than their need to win today?
His answer is yes. My answer is also yes.
But he then uses this as an argument to send Joe Thurston to the minor leagues, while I, as you saw Tuesday, use it as an argument to keep him in the majors.
Here are the reasons Plaschke thinks sending Joe down is a long-term solution:
Bill says: "...if Thurston stays, then the confidence of this 23-year-old kid could be permanently damaged."
Bill says: "...if Thurston stays, then Shumpert would be lost to another team, because he will not agree to be sent to the minors. And that could be a mistake because, despite his age, he is the sort of solid-hitting veteran that would fit in well here."
Bill says: "...demoting a guy because of a poor spring can be as unfair as promoting a guy because of a great spring. But when a player is trying to make the full-time jump from triple A to the major leagues — the biggest leap in baseball — the rules are different.
BIll says: "Spring training is his final tryout. Spring training is his most important stage."
Bill says: "If a player can't at least modestly succeed in front of an overweight pitcher and vacationing umpire and a couple of thousand dozing fans in Kissimmee, how is he going to fare in April at Dodger Stadium?"
Plaschke then wraps things up with the story of how a young Roberto Alomar was sent down, but recovered and came back up to be an All-Star. I guess if it's just that simple, let's send everyone down.
Okay - I'm starting to get a little hyperbolic myself, so I'll dial it back some. I don't think sending Thurston down would be a horrible thing. If he's good enough to play at this level, he'll probably be back later this spring. And again, with the Guillermo Mota situation, you could even just say to Thurston that you're sending him down for the four games that Mota is out, and then you're bringing him back. I've really got no problem with that.
What I can't understand is how you can talk sending to the minors a young guy who has a rough five weeks while advocating that the team build for the future.
If you really believe in constructing your team for the long term, you keep Joe Thurston on the roster. And if he starts the season hitting .189 and Bill Plaschke comes around to say that you've made a mistake - you're ruining this guy's confidence and you've lost solid-hitting veteran Terry Shumpert to boot - then you tell Plaschke, "Thank you kindly for your thoughts." And then you say emphatically that you believe in Joe Thurston, and that you have your best people working with him, and that you're gonna give him a real chance, not one that expires in March.
The arguments are mounting to send Joe Thurston down to the minor leagues. (By the way, has it been decided yet whether it's Joe or Joey?)
Thurston has not hit, hit with power, or walked much this spring. Vin Scully raved about his fielding on Saturday's telecast, but others have made his glovework sound as compelling as an ABC sitcom.
He missed a bunt Monday, which has been made out to be a cardinal sin, although in the No. 7 slot in the order, where he would figure to bat in the regular season, there won't be much need for him to lay one down.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers could use his spot - especially while Guillermo Mota serves his suspension - to hang onto an extra reserve from the Ron Coomer, Terry Shumpert, Calvin Murray crew. (I'm deciding that Jolbert Cabrera is on the team already, and Larry Barnes and Jason Romano are already ticketed for Las Vegas.)
Thurston could go to Las Vegas, get his confidence back, give the Dodgers time to sort out their reserve situation, and come back ready to contribute by May.
These are all decent arguments, and the whole of them is greater than the sum of their parts, or however that goes.
Here's are the reasons to ignore them.
With Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort pitching well, the Dodgers have had a quiet spring. The most interesting story for most of Spring Training has been the emergence of an actual competition for the final spots on the roster. All the reserve candidates mentioned above have played well.
That this competition has been the big story has made it seem more important than it is. At best, Coomer, Shumpert, or Murray will be the least valuable player on the team.
That is not to say they won't have any value at all. Coomer could hit a home run off the bench. Murray could make a great ninth-inning catch in place of Brian Jordan. Shumpert - frankly, I don't know what Shumpert would do. The guy's 36 and had a .676 OPS with Colorado last year.
But they will have the least impact on the team. They are the 25th men. They will not bring their .300-plus Spring Training averages into the regular season. If the Dodgers are depending on Ron Coomer to win them games, plural, then the Dodgers are simply in trouble.
When the season starts, Thurston might not do any better than Coomer, Shumpert or Murray would. Thurston's probably never going to be an All-Star. His best will, frankly, might resemble Mark Grudzielanek at his best. Slap a lot of singles and doubles around, but not walk much and not make anyone forget Ozzie Smith.
The thing with Thurston, though, is that he just might do that well. Whereas, there is no reason to believe Coomer or Shumpert will. They are aging veterans with track records of decline. They do not have the potential upside of a Joey Ballgame. Murray - I don't know, maaaayyyybe - he's not necessarily over the hill yet, and he resembles Dave Roberts too much to completely write him off.
Bottom line: Jim Tracy's skill is finding ways for borderline ballplayers to succeed. Who do you want him applying that skill to? Terry Shumpert, Ron Coomer or Joe Thurston?
The Last Place You Look?
In Sunday’s exhibition against Houston, Kazuhisa Ishii gave a sample of what is essentially the mixed blessing of a good Kazuhisa Ishii outing. He threw shutout ball, but averaged one walk and 18 pitches per inning.
Ishii is like the poor man’s vision of Jackson Pollock. Drip paint every which way, and hope that it comes out a masterpiece.
In 2002, Ishii averaged 17.58 pitches per inning. By comparison, Hideo Nomo – also known for his wildness – averaged 15.67 pitches per inning. Odalis Perez needed only 13.56 pitches per inning.
With the Ishii that we have seen so far, the best you hope for is that the end justifies the means. When that doesn’t happen, which is often, you begin to have misgivings about sending him out as a starting pitcher.
Despite not throwing a complete game last year, Ishii allowed nine or more baserunners in a game 15 times. He walked five or more batters eight times. Whenever he pitches, you need to have all your relief corps at the ready.
Sending Ishii himself to the bullpen, however, has not seemed like a solution, because when you have a pitcher who can’t find his command, the last place you want to make him search for it is in the late innings of a close game with runners on base. The thinking is that if Ishii is in such trouble that he has to tumble out of the rotation, he would immediately drop to Terry Mulholland-like mop-up status.
But here’s a new idea for Ishii – one that might fit his strengths with the Dodger weaknesses.
How about left-handed short man?
Here are Ishii’s stats against right-handed and left-handed batters last year:
vs. Righties: .245 BA, .375 OBP, .406 SLG, .781 OPS
That’s a big difference.
Facing 143 left-handed batters last year, Ishii allowed 24 singles, two doubles and three home runs – and perhaps more amazingly, walked only 12 (plus a hit batsman).
He walked only one of every 11 left-handed batters, compared to one of every five right-handed batters. In an inning against a right-handed lineup, Ishii is almost guaranteed to walk someone.
Another characteristic that would make Ishii a good left-handed short reliever is that he can generate strikeouts. More than a third of his outs against left-handed batters came in that fashion.
Working against the argument of Ishii as a reliever is that his best innings in 2002 were the middle innings. He allowed only a .515 OPS in innings 4-6, as opposed to a .890 OPS in innings 1-3 – an even bigger differential than the left-right discrepancy. So there is reason to continue trying Ishii as a starter, chewing your fingernails through the first third of the game.
Also, in very small samples, Ishii has had mixed results getting some of the bigger-name left-handed hitters out. Here is the record of some leading lefties against Ishii:
Mark Kotsay: 4 plate appearances, 2 hits (1 home run), 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 2.000 OPS
I am in the camp that the Dodgers shouldn’t have a left-handed reliever just for the sake of having one. If their best relievers are all righties, then that’s whom they should go with.
Still, until another starting pitcher goes down with an injury, “Wild Thing” Ishii coming out of the bullpen might be an option for the Dodgers to consider. Assuming Andy Ashby can get his act together at all, the Dodgers might get much more out of having Ashby starting and Ishii helping to form the bridge to Eric Gagne.
Talk about getting knocked off your pedestal. My chances of being the biggest Jon Weisman in baseball, both literally and figuratively, have bit the dust.
Maybe I can still be the biggest righty Jon Weisman in the game.
Parsing Andy Ashby
His strapping 6-foot-1 frame twisting in the breeze, the bullpen looks like the destination for the man with a 17.47 ERA in 5 2/3 exhibition innings.
And so Andy Ashby dangles through the spring like a misplaced participle.
With six starting pitchers on the roster, someone has to go to the bullpen. Seems like it might as well be Ashby, but with the health of the Dodger pitching staff still unsettled, he might get his starts. Is there any hope that he'll be effective this year?
Just last season, Ashby had a 3.91 ERA in 181 2/3 innings. On the other hand, he struggled with his health in September, lasting only 11 1/3 innings and generating a 7.94 ERA.
I've counseled many times in this space that Spring Training statistics need to be discounted as much as possible. But to further investigate that point, I dug up the stats of the Dodgers' worst starting pitchers in Spring Training over the past four seasons, and how they performed in the regular season:
2002: Kazuhisa Ishii
2001: Chan Ho Park
2000: Eric Gagne
1999: Carlos Perez
So what do we find? All four pitchers improved their exhibition ERAs in April. Three of the four did so dramatically.
That said, only Park went on to have what was really a good season. Ishii was okay, I guess, but had deceptively positive numbers - he was erratic almost the entire year. Gagne struggled in that battle of days-gone-by to become a consistent starter. And the 1999 season of Perez, of course, became the stuff of legend.
Perez remains an interesting story to me. As you may recall, Perez pitched very well for the Dodgers when acquired in the summer of 1998, and was signed to a three-year contract extension by Kevin Malone. Among the reasons for the extension were the four complete games he threw in September 1998, including two shutouts.
I attended Perez's first start of 1999. It was against the Colorado Rockies, and Perez led, 1-0, after six innings. Perez gave up hits to Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla in the seventh inning. Dodger manager Davey Johnson does not have anyone warm up in the bullpen. Keep in mind, we're just a week out of Spring Training.
Todd Helton then hits a three-run home run. Still, no one warms up. In fact, Perez would give up a fourth run - and though finally someone got up in the bullpen, no replacement entered the game that inning. Perez finished the seventh, and was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning.
I felt strongly, throughout the top of the seventh, that Johnson nonsensically was risking more than a game - he was risking a pitcher. Of course, the previous night, Ismael Valdes had gone 7 2/3 innings in a victory over Arizona. Perhaps Johnson thought the Dodger staff was bionic in 1999. On the other hand, Johnson certainly had a rested bullpen to use.
Perez gave up six earned runs in each of his next two starts. He recovered to throw seven innings of one-run ball in his fourth start, so maybe there isn't a connection. But Perez never got it together after that, finishing with that awful ERA you see above, and so that fourth start seems more like a fluke.
Maybe Perez was destined to implode that season - and I'm certainly not going to say that the huge contract Perez got could be justified. But you'd think with that contract, Johnson would have been more careful. I've always wondered whether he might have ruined Perez's career in that seventh inning on April 8.
If there's a lesson here for today, that lesson is not to give up on Ashby just yet - but to handle him with care.
Don't be surprised if Joe Thurston, previously considered a lock for the team, starts the season in the minor leagues. His spring has underwhelmed the Dodgers so far, and they might think sending him down will allow him to get his fire or game or whatever back.
In addition, with the Guillermo Mota uncertainty, sending Thurston to the minors would extend the Dodgers' roster flexibility, allowing them to hang on to a guy like Larry Barnes or (gulp) Terry Shumpert or (gulllllllp) Ron Coomer a little longer.
Chris Hamilton and Bill Simms both e-mailed me similar responses to my March 17 piece on the Dodgers' increased salary flexibility this postseason, that are worth passing along. They each noted that a good amount of money will need to go to raises for Eric Gagne and Odalis Perez, as well as (and they both used similar qualifiers) Adrian Beltre if he finally has a big year. Neither thinks that the Dodgers will make a big play for Tejada.
I wonder if Tejada will even have a good enough year to justify all this speculation. He may well have moved past Derek Jeter in the top tier of major-league shortstops, but I think that's more a reflection of how much Jeter has been slipping.
Kevin Brown Crow Update
Yep, all of the major papers today sung the praises of Kevin Brown's great Spring Training. Nope, none mentioned the controversy of his controversial Spring Training reporting date.
If it's not an issue now, it shouldn't have been an issue then. If Brown were pitching poorly or were injured now, you know people would be talking about his early-but-still-late arrival.
I'm going to take a closer look at the NL West race next week. If Brown is still feeling good by then, I think I may find the Dodgers have a chance to win this thing. Or I might find that even with a healthy Brown, the Dodgers still don't have enough offense.
Fine-Tuning the Playoffs
Though others have been converted, I'm still not in favor of the wild card. And I say that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited Angels' run through the playoffs last year. To me, a great pennant race is still supreme. And I'm willing to let a 100-win second-place team miss the playoffs in order to preserve that.
That said, Tom Verducci reported a new wild-card proposal on SI.com this week that I think has a lot of merit. Since the wild-card is never going to go away, I'm going to put in my support for this idea.
1. Each league gets two wild-card teams -- that is, the two non-division winners with the best records advance to the playoffs, as opposed to the current system in which only one wild card is awarded.
2. The two wild cards face off in a one-game playoff the day after the regular season ends. The winner advances to play one of the division champs in a Division Series, with the rest of the playoffs proceeding as currently set up.
As Verducci points out, not only would this winner-take-all wild card give teams a needed extra incentive to win their divisions, but it would also put the winning wild-card team at a disadvantage in the next round of the playoffs, because they will have needed to use a good pitcher just to get there. This all makes sense.
I also think the wild-card playoff game is a good way to jump-start the excitement of the playoffs - like a snappy cold opening on a TV show before the opening credits and first act begin.
Verducci says that another option that is more in favor right now is to extend the first round of the playoffs from best-of-five to best-of-seven. While this does reduce the chance of a wild-card team with one or two hot starters trumping a more balanced division winner, I don't think it addresses the problems with the current playoff structure as efficiently as the wild-card single-game playoff does.
A Mainstream Advance for OPS
OPS has crossed over. This week, it makes what might be its first appearance in a mainstream news magazine: Newsweek. The headline and subhead read:
The article is very much on the introductory level, but definitely serves its purpose of making people aware of the limits of traditional statistics.
From the article:
Only a few teams have fully embraced the stats revolution and some remain adamantly opposed. Seattle GM Pat Gillick, who has built powerhouse teams in several cities, insisted, “We’re not on OPS yet,” adding, “Frankly, I don’t know how much more technology we need in our lives.”
Could OPS actually be the straw that breaks the too-much-technology camel's back. Lights, radio, television - all okay? OPS - too much?
Something tells me it's okay to get on board, Pat.
In fact, it's definitely time for the local media to follow Newsweek's lead. Vin, are you listening?
The Crow Flies at Night
Kevin Brown against the Expos on Wednesday: six innings, three hits, no walks, eight strikeouts, 69 pitches.
Yes, it's still Spring Training. No, this doesn't mean he is going to be sound all season. But with a spring ERA of 0.56, you don't hear anyone these days questioning Brown's decision to arrive in Vero Beach after most of his teammates - and the questioning was pretty ferocious last month. What will the Thursday morning papers have to say about this? Will they recall the doubts of February, or will they stay silent?
In February, I took the time to point out that though Brown was not late for Spring Training - but then added that given his recent injury history, maybe he needed to be as early as the rest of his teammates. So for the time being, I deserve my little share of crow.
In the spirit of hoping for the best for Brown and the Dodgers, I'll start eating now. I'll spit it out if fortunes reverse somehow (like if he wakes up Thursday with a sore back).
What does the Opening Day roster mean? What does it look like by the time the season’s over?
I decided to track each of the spots from the 2002 Dodger roster and see what happened from Opening Day through September 1, when rosters expanded.
Of the 25 Opening Day slots, 17 saw no turnover during the season. Ten out of 15 position player slots stayed the same, and seven out of 11 pitchers.
Of the eight slots that saw turnover, four of them had only one roster move. There was one slot with two roster moves, another with three, another with four and another with five.
Overall, the Dodgers used 35 players for the 25-man roster: 17 pitchers in 11 slots and 18 position players in 14 slots.
That’s a pretty steady roster in my mind. Of course, what separates my website from better ones is that I’m not taking this a step further, and doing an exhaustive study to compare this turnover to that of other teams.
One conclusion I will draw: Dodger regulars stayed remarkably healthy last year. No starter went on the disabled list until Jordan took his sabbatical August 24.
Here’s how it went in 2001. Because hitters were replaced by pitchers and vice-versa, I’m not dividing the roster by position:
What a mess. Only nine roster spots held it together, compared to 17 a year later. Overall, the Dodgers used 42 players for the 25-man roster in 2001, seven more than in 2002.
So it goes both ways. The roster you see March 31 could basically be the bunch you’ll be following all season. Or by the end of the season, many of the names from Opening Day might be forgotten.
A lot of work for a pretty banal conclusion, I suppose. I guess I was just interested in the idea of how much you can dance with the guys that brung ya.
Lull and Void
I’m growing impatient with all the little questions.
Like when our No. 11 pitcher will serve his suspension.
Like who will be the 25th man on the roster.
And I’m not too enthralled with some of the big questions, like how a coming war will affect the sanctuary that is baseball.
And I don't even want to deal with the even bigger questions, like how a coming war will affect ... everything.
I can’t quite believe we still have almost two weeks to go. This fifth week of Spring Training has become like the fifth hour of a Super Bowl pregame show.
I’m ready. I want to see the team on the field. It’s time for the Game to start.
Instead … the Dodgers are off today. Not even an exhibition to look forward to.
Sigh. Time for a commercial break.
Money to Burn
Having remained largely dormant in the free-agent market this past offseason, the Dodger load of salary commitments will begin to lighten after the games of 2003 are over.
Here are some names that will be off the books:
Brian Jordan: $6.5 million ($9 million salary minus $2.5 million buyout for 2004)
Here are some names for 2004:
Todd Hundley: $6.5 million
In 2005, there’s you-know-who:
Kevin Brown $15 million
Few of those players need to be resigned, and none at their current value unless Nomo’s arm truly becomes bionic, which is not going to happen. So in November 2003, the Dodgers can begin climbing out of their financial hole.
There isn’t much point in predicting what they’ll do before the 2003 season begins. But this weekend’s news that the Oakland A’s do not plan to resign shortstop Miguel Tejada figures to get a lot of people thinking. I know it got me thinking.
No big-budget team has a greater shortstop need than the Dodgers, and few need as much help from the right-side of the plate. There is talk that the Yankees would go after Tejada, perhaps moving him or Derek Jeter to third base, but my guess is that New York will be more interested in signing outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
Tejada, who will turn 27 in May, had an OPS of .861 while playing in all 162 games last year.
His EQA, which adjusts for park effects and such, was .297 (against a major-league average of .260). By comparison, Alex Rodriguez, who is 27 now, had an EQA of .334 in 2002 in 162 games. Alex Cora, also 27, had an EQA of .291 in much more limited playing time in 2002.
Let me state unequivocally that despite the similarity in EQA to Cora’s, Tejada would strengthen the Dodgers immeasurably. It’s almost embarrassing to put Tejada and Cora in the same sentence.
But I do so for a reason. This fall, the Dodgers will have some salary breathing room for the first time in a while. They must resist the temptation, compounded by the caterwauling from fans, to be so enthralled with a free agent that they overpay, and start the cycle of salary imprisonment all over again.
Yes, they can take a bit of the risk that marked the late 1990s, but they should also retain a bit of the conservatism that marked 2002.
Tejada has power. He plays the toughest defensive position on the field. But although he hit for average (.308) last year, he needs to prove he can do it again. And he doesn’t walk. He could be awesome, or he could be Raul Mondesi.
Tejada deserves a contract that accounts for this current financial era and that accounts for his limitations as well as his strengths.
To the Dodgers and to their fans: When you’re thinking about the Dodgers of the future, stay cool, stay calm, stay rational.
Two Weeks and Three Days to Go
I've been vascillating on the idea of writing on the weekends. Obviously, there's a lot going on with the Dodgers on Saturdays and Sundays, but at the same time, there's a lot going on chez Weisman too. Hope you'll be patient as I try to work out the schedule. Meanwhile, I'll be out of town this particular weekend, so enjoy today's entries and we'll see you next on Monday...
The first cuts have been made - and some strong impressions have been made as well - since my last 25-man roster analysis February 24.
Among other things, Guillermo Mota didn’t do Larry Barnes or his batting cohorts any favors. If he makes the team, he will probably start the season on suspension. That makes the Dodgers more likely to keep a 12th pitcher to avoid blowing out their pitching staff in the first week. (By the way, Ross Newhan quite effectively covers just about all the angles on the Mota-Mike Piazza incident in the Times today - I really don't have much to add on that front.)
Anyway, the way the roster stacks up, it does feel like a trade is waiting to be made, doesn’t it? We’ll see. Until then, I have to operate with the assumption that what you see is what you get. Here goes:
Bullpen (6): Eric Gagne, Paul Quantill, Paul Shuey, Giovanni Carrara, Guillermo Mota, Andy Ashby
Starting Lineup (8): Dave Roberts, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Brian Jordan, Fred McGriff, Adrian Beltre, Joe Thurston, Cesar Izturis
Bench (4): Mike Kinkade, Daryle Ward, Alex Cora, Todd Hundley
Most Likely to Succeed (2)
Jolbert Cabrera, IF/OF: He was destined to make the team or hit the waiver wire, but sounds like he’s had the spring he’s needed. He’s not a name pick like Ron Coomer, but he’s got versatility, and tenure – he’s been with the Dodgers for months!
Strong Shot (2)
Troy Brohawn, LHP: Another potential Mota beneficiary. Hasn’t pitched himself out of the running yet, and Alvarez is an expensive “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”
See You Midseason? (14)
Jason Romano, IF/OF: Just an age/experience thing with him and Cabrera. Romano has minor-league options remaining.
David Ross, C: His health, and the strong springs that so many fringe players have had, have left him behind, but with Hundley’s history, I still think we might see him before April is out.
Steve Colyer, LHP: His youth and remaining options work against him. He’s probably the best candidate for the No. 12 slot.
Chin-Feng Chen, 1B/LF: Reopened some eyes with a great spring. Wait for Jordan to go on the DL.
Koyie Hill, C: Still promising. If Ross continues to battle injuries, he can play leapfrog.
Chad Hermansen, OF: The hole – I mean, the DL –calls.
Wilkin Ruan, OF: A quiet but productive spring. His chance will come.
Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP: Heir apparent to Mota’s young fireballer role.
Victor Alvarez, LHP: If Ishii gets hurt?
Lindsay Gulin, LHP: If Ishii and Alvarez get hurt?
Chris Clapinski, IF: Every time I looked up, this guy was making an error. Low on the depth chart.
Calvin Maduro, RHP: Filler for Las Vegas
Rodney Myers, RHP. Ditto.
Toeing the Waiver Wire (4)
Quilvio Veras, 2B: It’s not too late for him, but it’s a real uphill battle.
Terry Shumpert, IF/OF: No buzz about him, and there are too many younger candidates.
Tom Martin, LHP: Too injury-prone.
Yorkis Perez, LHP: Carlos is always available.
Phil Rogers and Mike DiGiovanna write that because the Cubs had a losing record once Fred McGriff joined the team, maybe McGriff isn’t a winner.
Jim Tracy says that because the Baltimore Orioles had a winning record with weak-hitting Mark Belanger at shortstop, then your shortstop doesn’t have to hit for you to be successful.
Do any of these people know the difference between correlation and causation?
I don’t know that Alex Cora is so much better than Cesar Izturis that he should be starting for the Dodgers in 2003, or that choosing one over the other will make a huge difference. But if you’re going to put the worst-hitting player in baseball in your starting lineup, which Izturis would have been last year with just a few more plate appearances to qualify, at least have a better justification than “Mark Belanger couldn’t hit.”
For better or worse, the Dodgers think Izturis is their shortstop for the long-term. That’s a good reason to play him. That’s the justification. Putting forward the idea that his as-yet undeveloped hitting skills are irrelevant – that’s no justification.
That said, I think that although Cora is depressed about Tracy's Belanger comment, he will get his chances this season.
'Try Reasoning With Him'
It's been a long time since something in the news has amazed me and filled me with wonder as much as the safe return of Elizabeth Smart. I'm just blown away, and very happy for her and her family.
No truth to the rumor that the hostilities between Mike Piazza and Guillermo Mota started last year with Piazza taunting, "Baby talk, baby talk, it's a wonder you can walk."
(It's a Brady Bunch reference. I want to use it, but feel impelled to clarify it because I used a different one at my softball game Sunday and the person I was talking to didn't watch the show and didn't get it. What kind of world are we coming to when you can't use a Brady Bunch reference with any confidence?)
Mota's got a blazing fastball and a 1.29 ERA with nine strikeouts and two walks (and one hit batter, of course) in seven innings this spring. That's very good. And it had better be, because he's the last man on the pitching staff, and I don't know how long teams will let you hold that job if every so often you're going to be suspended and held out of road trips.
It's not like Mota hit Barry Bonds. He hit a guy that many Dodger fans still worship - the prodigal son that hasn't returned. When Mota comes into a game in Dodger Stadium, I don't get the sense people are going to rally around him too much. Games against the Mets may sell out, though.
Anyway ... not that I live in a Brady Bunch world, but it seems like someone should really get Piazza, Mota and managers Art Howe and Jim Tracy in a room together, supervised, and just settle this like grownups. Does it serve anyone's interest to let a situation linger where two major league baseball players can't even be in the same city?
Piazza's got a beef - he's been hit by Mota two years in a row. Mota's got a beef - how mature was it for Piazza to go after Mota as he was walking away from the Mets' dugout toward the exits at Vero Beach last year and start grabbing his neck? Sure, if Mota hit Piazza with the pitch intentionally, Mota's in the wrong and should be punished. But you have to deal with the residual anger.
I know there are people who go to the ballpark who look forward to fights breaking out, but I'm telling you, with the injuries and suspensions, it ain't worth it. Just make peace. Believe me, these days, we need all the peace we can get.
Probably, though, it'll just fester. The Dodgers finish their stretch of six games with the Mets in seven days with the Mexico City trip this weekend, then don't play New York again until May 6. By then, Mota will have probably proven his value to the team, one way or another. And then, we'll just see...
P.S. I just watched the video. Two comments:
1) Mets general manager Steve Phillips' contention in the press that "the catcher set up inside, way inside, on both pitches, and it was pretty clear the catcher knew that Mota was going after him" isn't borne out. David Ross set up on the inside corner of the plate, low, where you would set up any number of times during a game. The pitch came in about two feet higher and two feet further inside.
2) When Piazza gets angry, his eyes are freakin' wide. You really have to see it. (Four minutes of footage is available at MLB.com.)
The Meaning of the Game
A guy named Bill Simms sent me an e-mail yesterday which contained the following:
You and I are about the same age, so we probably share some great memories of a time when we were younger (so the game meant more) and the Dodgers were what the Dodgers should be.
The game meant more.
Strange that of all the things he wrote in the letter, I would fixate on the words in parentheses.
I wrote Bill back, saying, "In some ways, the game meant more to me when I was younger, but in other ways, enduring the Dodgers' post-1988 struggles has left me perhaps even more invested."
My earliest baseball memory is seeing Hank Aaron's 715th home run on television in April 1974. I was 6 1/2 years old. Although I have no memories that precede that one, I do recall that Aaron hit that home run against the team I was rooting for: the Dodgers. So my allegiance to the team goes back even further.
For the next 15 seasons, the Dodgers finished first in the NL West six times and in second place four times. They never went more than three seasons without a postseason appearance. There were disappointments, but rather quickly there was a feeling that the disappointments wouldn't last very long.
At the same time, my childhood was happy as well. I did not want for much. Not that it was completely carefree, but I knew that I had it pretty good.
I graduated from college less than a year after Kirk Gibson's home run. And in a sense, the Dodgers and I entered the real world together.
It wasn't apparent right away. By the end of 1989, I had a full-time job as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News - in fact, I would prat around in my own head, adapting the lingo of the profession to brag to myself that I was "the youngest full-time sportswriter in Los Angeles."
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had their little two-season hiccup. Fourth place in 1989, second place in 1990. But in 1991, the timetable stated, the Dodgers would be back.
Instead, the Giants eliminated them on the last day of the season, and this team out of nowhere, with no pedigree for winning, the Atlanta Braves, came out of nowhere to win the division.
Around the same time, the Daily News hired a reporter named Marc Stein. Marc's a good guy - you might know him now as a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. But back then, like the Braves, Marc, well, infringed upon my timetable. He was now the youngest full-time sportswriter in Los Angeles, and much to my surprise, that actually seemed to mean something to our boss. He started to get plum assignments, and I started getting passed over.
In 1992, I did exactly what I now chide the Dodgers for doing. I got impatient, and I made a big move. I left the paper.
I left for graduate school at Georgetown, and I will say my degree was a much more worthwhile investment than Delino DeShields or Carlos Perez was for the Dodgers. But from that time on - more than 10 years ago now - the Dodgers and I have essentially become the Cubs. Some little successes, some hopes, but more questionable decisions and, certainly, no World Series.
In about the mid-1990s, after it became clear how awful the DeShields-Pedro Martinez trade was, I started to conjecture that the Dodgers really could become the Cubs - that a journey to 100 years of mediocrity can begin with a single step. Subsequently, I started to think that I might be following the same path. I'm a published writer, and people (some of them, anyway) have enjoyed my work. But I don't feel like I really made it to the champagne celebration in the locker room.
I'm very happy these days - I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful baby, and you won't catch me regretting the choices I made that allowed those things to happen. But I do have frustrations, and those frustrations, I've come to realize, are played out each time the Dodgers do something. Anything. I'm not just talking about the 162 games; I'm talking about the offseason trades and the decisions to replace the dirt warning track with rubber and the removal of the sandwich station on the Club level of Dodger Stadium. I was raised in an easier time, where things were more often right than wrong, and I haven't shed my addiction to that time. I want things with the Dodgers to be right. That, essentially, is the genesis of this website - to deal with that want.
I think what it is, is that when I was younger, the games were more fun. They were carefree. Now, they do seem to mean more to me. They carry this weight. And now, it's been so long since the Dodgers have been a winner, I can't imagine anymore what it will be like to celebrate that. I hope I enjoy the glory, if it ever comes, as much as I've suffered the pain. I think maybe I will.
My Dad, by the way, grew up in Chicago and attended the Cubs' last World Series in 1945. He roots for the Dodgers and the Cubs, and has also never gotten a foul ball, while I've snagged four. So, I've just got to remember - it's all about perspective.
Kevin Modesti’s column today in the Daily News on a series of Dodger clubhouse incidents involving Andy Ashby, Jim Colborn and reporters is really worth a read. The tale has a Rashomon quality to it.
Not Very Newsworthy
No doubt it works out for the accountants, but otherwise, the move of the Dodgers’ radio broadcasts to KFWB this year makes no sense.
The biggest reason isn’t really a baseball one. KFWB and KNX are the two 24-hour news stations in Los Angeles. For years, every night at 9 or 10 p.m., KNX has broken from its news coverage to present the KNX Drama Hour, a rotating collection of old-time radio shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Third Man.” That means that when the Dodgers are on the air at night, there will be nowhere on the radio to find news coverage.
Beyond that, you have KFWB presenting no Dodger broadcasts of Spring Training games on weekdays, breaking a tradition that is older than me. And I doubt we can expect much pregame and postgame material, even when the season starts. (Although maybe that’s a good thing.)
In any case, news is clearly more valuable to KFWB – for reasons that are easy to understand. So with more sports stations than news stations in this city, I can’t understand why the Dodgers would move to a place where they’re a low priority. Must’ve been one heck of a deal.
Brooks Kieschnick is trying to make the Milwaukee Brewers as a relief pitcher/backup outfielder. Wayward pitcher Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals is also getting Spring Training work as a pinch hitter.
Could Darren "Slash" Dreifort be the one who officially makes the pitcher/hitter a trend?
Dreifort's double-duty exploits at Wichita State are a wee legend. He batted .318 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI in 314 at-bats, in addition to going 26-5 with 17 saves and a 2.24 ERA. With the Dodgers, he hit two home runs in a game against the Cubs on August 8, 2000, and has six homers in 223 career at-bats.
For about half my life, I've been thinking that players like Dreifort and John Olerud, who was a star pitcher for Washington State, have been pigeonholed to quickly in their careers. I understand it's hard enough to master one set of skills, let alone two sets, but it's been hard for me to believe that no one in the majors can do it.
Anyway, with the new interest in the idea thanks to Kieschnick and Ankiel, I took a closer look at Dreifort's batting record in preparation to promote his candidacy. And you know what? It doesn't really look like he's the guy.
Dreifort's batting average has declined in each of the last four years he played (1998-2001). He's never had a seasonal OPS over .600. Even with extensive batting practice, even if he is truly healthy, it stretches credibility to imagine that Dreifort could raise his hitting skills to the point of being more than an emergency batsman. There are many better hitting pitchers out there today.
Too bad. It looks like he's going to have to earn that salary on the mound.
(By the way, I'm not sure that Kieschnick is going to be one of those better-hitting pitchers, either. Of course, he still hasn't pitched in an official major-league game yet. And as a full-time hitter, his career OPS is only .702. The good news is that he's only had 192 plate appearances; the bad news is that it's taken him past the age of 30 to get them. Make no mistake, though, I'll be rooting for him.)
Outside of Dodgertown
One time, my Dad predicted that Marcus Allen would rush for 243 yards in a game - and got it exactly right. Best prediction of the 1980s.
One time, at a bar, I bet my good friend John Egan a dollar, at 100-to-1 odds, what song the band would play next. He called "Twist and Shout" - and won the bet. Best prediction of the 1990s.
I think we have a winner of the award for the 2000s. On March 4, Will Carroll wrote the following on Baseball Prospectus:
Simply stated, Phil Nevin is reaching a point where injuries and an exceptionally odd career path have taken some sort of toll. Last year, Nevin suffered through two arm injuries that may or may not be connected. Nevin was initially out with a strained elbow and returned, only to break his humerus near the shoulder. The injury was initially believed to be a bruised muscle, but an MRI broke the bad news. Nevin's had a history of shoulder problems and even after his return, Nevin was clearly not at full strength. Reports coming from San Diego have Nevin still not at full strength. Add in a positional change to left field, a push past the prime years, and a history of injury, and suddenly Nevin becomes not a feared hitter, but a risky player that you don't want to build a team around. I'll either look like a genius or moron with this, but I expect Nevin to have some sort of season-ending injury in the early stages of the season.
Three days later, Nevin dove for a ball, dislocated his shoulder, and will miss the entire 2003 season.
The other non-Dodger comment I wanted to make was on Garret Anderson. In response to a question he often gets, about why he so rarely dives for balls, Anderson told the Bill Plaschke of the Times, "I study hitters. I have an idea of where the ball is going. I don't dive because I don't have to."
The same line of thinking was attributed to Joe DiMaggio. To me, this defies credibility. The ball doesn't always go where it's supposed to. Are we to believe that every ball that Anderson has not caught landed 10 feet away from him? Are we to believe that Darin Erstad dives for balls because he has no idea where they're going to go?
Look, I like Anderson. My first feature as a full-time reporter for the Daily News was a story on a hot-shooting Kennedy High School basketball player, who also had done some good stuff on the diamond, named Garret Anderson. I have fond memories of him from a long time ago. He's not all-everything, he doesn't walk much, but he has some great skills and seems like a decent guy.
But I think he needs to come up with a new explanation. Or admit he's just saving himself. Because just like in boxing, everyone's got to take a dive once in a while.
A Shallow Defensive Analysis
You still don't hear the "Defense, Defense" cheer at baseball games, but improved play in the field was one of the reasons the Dodgers were able to scratch out their 92 wins last season.
The team set a franchise record by making only 90 errors. Admittedly, errors are only a part of the whole fielding picture - they don't reflect the balls that the Dodgers didn't get to. But still, making fewer errors is better than making a whole mess of 'em.
Will defense continue to be an asset for the Dodgers? Let's try taking an unscientific look.
Outfield: Dodger outfielders made 11 errors last season: Marquis Grissom 4, Brian Jordan 4, Shawn Green 2, Hiram Bocachica 1. Dave Roberts made none in 257 chances. Roberts will get more time in center this year with Grissom gone, but left field is probably more vulnerable with Jordan being backed up by Mike Kinkade and Daryle Ward. Call it even, and continue to beware of tough balls hit to left that will go for doubles.
Third base: Adrian Beltre 20, Dave Hansen 2, Jolbert Cabrera 1. Beltre's rep is that he makes errors on the easy plays and nails the tough ones. He also was involved in fewer double plays per game last year in previous years. Still, fielding is considered a strength for him - he stays in the lineup even when he's not hitting. But just like with his hitting, we are wondering whether this will be the year it really all comes together for him. I say it will be, and predict some improvement.
Shortstop: Cesar Izturis 10, Alex Cora 5, Jeff Reboulet 2. This is the Dodgers' strongest defensive position. Izturis is a natural, and if he can hit enough to stay in the lineup, that's a good sign for the defense. Even if he can't, Cora is capable.
Second base: Mark Grudzielanek 7, Cora 2, Reboulet 2. Grudz and Eric Karros had shockingly low error totals - they were two main reasons the Dodgers set their record. But Cora often replaced Grudzielanek in the late innings for defensive reasons last year, indicating what Jim Tracy thought of the range of the soon-to-be-a-Cub. The thing is, Joe Thurston doesn't figure to be that much better. If Thurston hits - which is more important - this could be a place where the Dodgers backslide.
First base: Karros 4, Tyler Houston 2, Paul Lo Duca 1. Karros was a lackidasical fielder, league-leading fielding percentage or not. Fred McGriff's reputation is worse, though. A few more errors here for first base, and maybe a few more for the other infielders as well.
Catcher: Lo Duca 8, Chad Kreuter 3. The bigger issue for Lo Duca is whether he can improve upon his poor stats throwing out runners, and his 12 passed balls. The guess here is that he will do on the former, if not the latter. But replacing Kreuter with Todd Hundley will put a lot more defensive stress behind the plate. For the third position in a row, look for some overall dropoff.
Pitcher: Hideo Nomo 4, Odalis Perez 2, Andy Ashby 1, Kevin Brown 1, Kazuhisa Ishii 1, Terry Mulholland 1. This spot always seems like a fielding crapshoot to me.
Overall, the Dodgers defense looks slightly but not substantially weaker. It's enough that it could make a difference in a few games, but not enough to reverse the help that improved hitting and healthier pitching could provide. The Dodgers have won titles with worse defenses - back when the Dodgers used to win titles.
I'd still watch those error totals in April. If they are making more than three a week, I might start to worry.
15 Minutes of, Well, Not Fame, but Something
I got the 2003 Dodger Media Guide on Sunday. I decided to give myself 15 minutes to pull 15 interesting facts from it. (I'm going to allow myself to proofread my results after I'm done.)
0:00 The Dodgers' last trade with the Angels was Orlando Alvarez for Ellie Rodriguez, March 21, 1976. (Page 213)
Hey - 17. Not bad!
I looked up Vance Lovelace's stats after the challenge. He never pitched for the Dodgers. He only pitched for the Angels and Mariners. I remember his career got derailed somehow, but I guess it happened before he made it to the majors with L.A. I'm gonna dock myself half a point for that mistake.
Terry Wells! That was the guy. 1-2, 7.84 ERA in 1990. Man. It took me another 15 minutes to find him.
Taking Their Time
The 3-4-5 hitters, Shawn Green, Brian Jordan and Fred McGriff, haven't cracked the 10 at-bat mark yet.
I was surprised to find that Adrian Beltre has - there's been very little noise about him this year, even though he is pivotal to the Dodger hopes. However, beyond the kind of stuff that I discussed February 25, I guess there really isn't much to say about him until the season starts.
Not Just What, But When
We all know Spring Training stats are misleading, but it's hard not to get excited when an underdog player does unexpectedly well. Larry Barnes is the top 'dog so far, with Calivin Murray, Ron Coomer and Chin-Feng Chen also among those making waves.
One way to help keep things in perspective is to take note of when these guys are doing their damage. If it's coming in the latter three innings, as I believe has been the case with Chen and Barnes, then you have to recognize that it's probably coming against AAA competition, not major league competition. (And if it's coming against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh, eighth or ninth, then maybe we're talking AA. Baltimore's talking about trying to acquire Ken Griffey, Jr., for prospects, yet the Orioles don't have a prospect in most major magazines' top 100.)
That doesn't mean I'm not rooting for Barnes et al. I'd love to see a tough competition for the bench spots behind Ward, Kinkade, Cora/Thurston/Izturis and (gulp) Hundley.
He’s years away from the major-league roster, but I continue to pay too much attention to 18-year-old James Loney. After starting 0 for 7, Loney got his first two hits yesterday – a single and a double.
In seven games, the Dodgers have stolen 14 bases in 16 attempts.
Alex Cora, Joe Thurston and Cesar Izturis are a combined 3 for 31 in the spring so far. They are batting .097. With their three combined HBPs, though, their on-base percentage leaps to .176 and their OPS jumps to .273. So, not to worry.
Trying to Make Shuey Fit
The thing with Dodger general manager Dan Evans is, most of the time, he seems like a bright, thoughtful guy.
And then there’s the rest of the time …
We all have our blind spots – I know I have mine. Thursday, we got to see more of Evans’, when he continued to rationalize the trade of top pitching prospects Ricardo Rodriguez and Francisco Cruceta to Cleveland last year for reliever Paul Shuey.
Interviewed by Ken Gurnick yesterday, Evans at first said, "When I make a trade, I don't get the chance to reconsider. If I feel right about the deal at the time, I do it and don't look back."
That’s a fair position to take. Even if a trade doesn’t make sense now, it seemed right to him at the time and maybe there’s no sense crying over it, at least to the media.
But then Evans did look back – and it wasn’t good. Gurnick wrote that “Evans defends the trade on the basis of need, and indicates that Rodriguez would not have enjoyed the same opportunity in Los Angeles that he will in Cleveland.”
There was also this quote from Evans:
"Shuey will help us over the next two years," he said. "There's no telling what Rodriguez will do. We all know Shuey. He's proven. If all of our starters are healthy this year, Rodriguez would be pitching in the minor leagues anyway. With our ballclub, a lot of games are decided in the sixth and seventh innings. When you have an offense that has struggled scoring runs and you have one of the best closers in the game, you have to keep the other team quiet in those middle innings to get to the closer."
Here are the problems with that train of thought:
1) There isn’t any more knowing what Shuey will do, following his inconsistent adjustment to the National League, than what Rodriguez will.
2) It's nice to say that if the Dodger pitchers were healthy, Rodriguez would have been in the minors. Of course, because of the health of the Dodger pitching, Rodriguez would have had every opportunity to contribute.
During the run for the wild card last September, journeyman Kevin Beirne started three games for the Dodgers. Reliever Giovanni Carrara started one. Omar Daal approached his fifth September start having lasted only 14 innings – and allowing 17 runs – in his previous four. Even minor leaguer Victor Alvarez started once in September, though it was on the last day of the season after the Dodgers were eliminated.
This year, the Dodgers are considering Wilson Alvarez as a potential swingman. Are we to believe that Rodriguez would have no opportunity to contribute, as a starter or as a reliever? And what about years to come, as Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo and Andy Ashby get even older? You can add Cruceta into the what-might-have-been category as well.
It shouldn’t be so hard for Evans to acknowledge that this trade might have been rash. This was just a big-time false rationalization.
Evans might still be redeemed if Eric Gagne, who had an MRI on his back yesterday, were to miss significant time and Shuey stepped up brilliantly. And even with a healthy Gagne, it’s not like Shuey can’t be a positive contributor.
But with his team in a long-term payroll and starting pitching crunch, it’s doubtful anyone will ever be able to justify that trade. I look forward to the day we see a sign that Dan Evans’ blind spot is getting treatment.
In its preview of the top 50 pitching prospects in baseball, Sports Weekly put Ricardo Rodriguez - the man the Dodgers traded away for a man they might now be trying to trade (Paul Shuey) - No. 1.
This came in response to Wednesday's column on pending ownership change with the Dodgers:
Good column today. I don’t think there is too much to be concerned about as of yet. As I see it, here are the potential buyers:
1) Dave Checketts wants the cable channels and not the team
2) Alan Casden wants Chavez Ravine and not the team
3) Philip Anschutz wants to build a new stadium and not the team
The team is worth too much money to just be an afterthought in any deal. This means that any of the potential buyers probably need a partner who actually wants to own/run the team (like Bob Daly does currently). Perhaps Peter Ueberroth, Casey Wasserman, or even Daly would be interested? It is just way too early to get worried about any of these possibilities and I am betting that none of the possibilities are quite as bad as they seem.
Also, it isn’t really fair to compare this sale to previous one. Fox is leaving the team in a lot better shape today then when Fox bought it. There is a solid management team in place and a cohesive vision. It pains me to say it, but when Fox bought the team there were a lot of changes that needed to be made. O’Malley had really let things fall apart after the Al Campanis incident and with the rising costs of running a franchise.
Keep the faith,
p.s. only 25 days till Opening Day!
Does Dreifort Kneed to Relieve?
I asked Will Carroll, who analyzes all baseball medical matters in the excellent and unique "Under the Knife" series on Baseball Prospectus, about the recurring buzz from Vero Beach that Darren Dreifort's knee might not stand the up-and-down stress of Dreifort being a relief pitcher. This is a notion I'm skeptical of. Here is Carroll's reply:
It's mostly usage. As a starter, is he getting appropriate rest? Is he pitching efficiently? Is he being monitored for mechanics, pitch count, velocity, etc? As a reliever, is he being used on consecutive days? Is he up and down in the bullpen? Is his role consistent?
There's so many factors - not to mention factors individual to Dreifort - that go in, I simply can't even fathom a guess as to where he'd be more effective or less likely to be injury free.
Ok, I will guess. With Jim Tracy's propensity for finding good matchups and watching usage, I'd say he'd do well in a setup role. With his contract, I think you have to let him start and see if he implodes.
Nice to have some backing for my point of view - even though it's just a guess, it is a guess from an expert. I do disagree about letting him start because of his contract. At this point, no one thinks that contract was a good idea except Dreifort and Scott Boras, his agent. The ticket has been punched - now let's find the best seat we can for Dreifort, even if that seat is in the bullpen.
Of course, this week, the possibility was raised that Andy Ashby might be the No. 6 starter/set-up reliever. We'll see...
Riffin’ with McGriff
Fred McGriff’s first spring-training homer was off a left-handed pitcher, Brian Anderson. According to MLB.com, however, Anderson said “he served up an experimental curveball that he won't throw to left-handed hitters anymore.” Not that one spring-training home run would make a difference anyway, but there remains every reason to be wary of playing McGriff much against left-handed pitchers.
As for the Dodger left-handed pitchers, hopefully it was just dead-arm day. Wilson Alvarez, Pedro Borbon, Jr. and Steve Colyer combined to allow 12 earned runs in five innings. Yorkis Perez managed to sneak in a shutout inning.
In the first of two good articles today, long-ago colleague Kevin Modesti of the Daily News reports that neither McGriff, nor more importantly, Jim Tracy, are planning for McGriff to be platooned at first base.
Modesti injects the proper skepticism about this, and ultimately, Tracy does as well. McGriff, on the other hand, is every bit as charmingly deluded as you'd expect him to be:
"To me, if you hit 30, it doesn't matter if they're against left- handers or right-handers," said McGriff, who hit a high breaking ball Wednesday.
But in 2002, McGriff hit one per 70 at-bats against lefties and one per 13.6 against righties, a huge difference not seen in his earlier statistics.
Platoon a five-time All-Star who's 22 homers away from 500?
"Initially, that's not the way I'm looking at it," Tracy said. "That's what he was brought here to do, exactly what he did here today."
“Initially.” Good ol’ Nothing’s Sacred Tracy.
Modesti’s column, by the way, compares the musical tastes of the old and young Dodgers, and includes the following:
How about Springsteen?
"I listen to a little of that," Romano said. "It's soothing, you know?"
While Romano is nodding off to sleep to the "soothing" beat of "Ramrod," let's consider the makeup of the team that's being assembled this spring in Dodgertown.
Kevin Brown's Next Team
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Jerry Rice (40) has signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension that will give the Oakland Raiders more salary cap room.
Is a Little Tranquility Too Much to Ask?
When News Corp. purchased the Dodgers near the end of 1997, the new owners fixated so much on how much money they could wring out of the operation immediately, that they failed to consider what was best for the long term. As a result, they and the people they hired made detrimental decisions that have prevented the team from being successful, financially or otherwise, for years.
Amazingly, as News Corp. prepares to sell the team in 2003, it's becoming clear that things could very well get worse.
James Flanigan's article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times today is sobering. It points out that the interests of leading ownership candidates for the Dodgers are every bit as crass, if not more so, than those of News Corp.
We already know that the group led by Dave Checketts doesn't really want the Dodgers as much as it wants Fox Sports Net 2. Although Checketts presumably might still be interested in what's best for the team on the field, we also know that his heavy-handed leadership of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden resembles Kevin Malone's tenure as "Dodger sheriff" more than anyone might be able to stomach. (See January 22.)
Now, Flanigan writes, the motive of other franchise buyers, such as Alan Casden, is to use the purchase as the anchor for a grand ol' real estate deal. Local real estate industry leaders told Flanigan that at about $1 million per acre, the 300-acre Dodger Stadium property is worth about as much as the franchise itself. They have bandied scenarios in which with city support, Dodger Stadium would be torn down for residential development, and a new stadium would be built downtown near Staples Center.
One can argue that this has the makings of justice, returning Chavez Ravine to the pristine state that existed before Walter O'Malley had it handed to him on a silver platter in 1957. (Although, of course, with a rich real-estate developer at the controls, I tend to doubt low-income housing would be the result.)
One can also argue, as local maverick Eli Broad told Flanigan, "I don't see how the economics would work" to pay for the new stadium downtown.
I'm not here to debate these positions. My concern, as parochial as it may be, is about the team on the field. And if the Dodgers are merely grist for the mill (yes, it's a cliche, but it's the first time I've used it in 35 years, so indulge me), you can forget about the slow but steady rehabilitation of the franchise that has taken place under Bob Daly, Dan Evans and Jim Tracy. New owners who only care about bigger dollars don't figure to have the patience to indulge silly concerns like building through a farm system, or allocating money for scouting, or maintaining the charm of a beautiful stadium from - gasp - the 20th century.
Flanigan concludes his article thus:
...any new owner of the Dodgers would have to invest more than $100 million just to refurbish Dodger Stadium, which is more than 40 years old.
All of this suggests that seeing the Dodgers as a real estate opportunity might, at the end of the day, be the real home-run strategy here.
The assumption, which I gather Flanigan is reporting more than endorsing, is that even after investing $100 million in the stadium, assuming that figure is really what's necessary even after the installation of advertising and luxury suites in recent years, an owner will not be satisfied with the quality of the merchandise he owns. Because there's more money to be harvested from the ground. The Dodgers would be fuel for the engine of The Big Deal - fuel that would be burned and discarded as quickly and conveniently as possible.
If the people who will approve the eventual sale of the Dodgers - namely, Bud Selig and his fellow owners - have/had a shred of conscience about their sport, they would not permit the Dodgers to be sold to people with such motivations. Leave these people to the NFL.
The Dodgers need an owner who can explode the mythology that running a baseball team - just running a baseball team - is a guaranteed money loser. And you know how to explode that mythology? Make decisions that make allegiance to the team irresistable. Make decisions that are calm and reasoned. Use that big-picture mentality for baseball, instead of corporate conquest. It simply hasn't been proven that this isn't possible.
Where There's a Wills, There's No Way
First of all, a quick aside: congratulations to Kazuhisa Ishii, Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort. Whatever happens in the coming season - and it may well not be good - theyíve all had serious injuries, and for them all to make such glowing returns in the same game is nice thing. Too bad the game wasnít on TV in Los Angeles - I really would have liked to have seen it.
Iím a little late on this topic, but I wanted to talk about Maury Wills and the Hall of Fame.
First, letís get his hitting and fielding stats out of the way. For his career, Willsí OPS+ was 88, meaning that his OPS was 88 percent of the league average. In 14 seasons, the longtime Dodger shortstop exceeded the league average once.
In those 14 seasons, Wills made 331 errors, or more than 27 per 162 games. By comparison, Jose Offerman has made 26.3 errors per 162 games, excluding the 62 games in which he was a designated hitter. Wills would need Ozzie Smith range to compensate for those mistakes and be worthy of the Hall.
Or, I suppose, he would have had to revolutionized the game with his stolen bases.
Wills stole 586 bases in his career, at a success rate of 73.8 percent, winning six consecutive stolen base titles from 1960, his third season, through 1965. In 1962, one year after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruthís home run record, Wills broke the stolen base record by stealing 104, in 117 attempts, and won the National League Most Valuable Player award.
OPS doesnít account for stolen bases, but EQA does. Willsí career EQA (adjusted for park and era) is .264 - slightly above average. He was above the average total of .260 in half of his 14 seasons.
So at least weíre not necessarily discussing the Hall of Fame credentials of a below average player. Of course, Willsí single-season best EQA, .289, is less than the .292 career EQA of Maris, himself a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.
Now, let's get to the biggest argument made for Wills, which is that what he did for baseball is bigger than his stats. By making the stolen base a weapon in the 1960s, Wills is said by many to have revolutionized the game.
People seem to think Willsí achievement has the same or similar importance as Babe Ruth revolutionizing the game with home runs.
The differences? No. 1, Ruth was a weapon unlike any that had ever been seen before, while the stolen base in 1962 was the return of something that had been around before, but laid to rest. Sort of like the difference between the Revolutionary War and, well, any U.S. war that followed.
No. 2, who was the revolutionary here? Maury Wills, or Dodger manager Walter Alston? At worst, it had to be some combination of the two. Hitting a home run vs. spraying the ball around the park was more Ruth's doing than anyone else's, but wouldn't Alston deserve credit for recognizing the weapon that was before him and using it? Or did Wills start stealing 20 bases a month on his own, defying not only opposing catchers but his own manager?
And as for the revolution - here are the NL stolen base totals for 1962, when Willsí stole 104, and the ensuing 10 seasons:
This is a revolution? Perhaps Iím being overly simplistic, but shouldnít stolen base totals have gone up following Willsí record year?
If there was a revolutionary, letís talk about Lou Brock, who stole bases prodigiously and got on base more than his average contemporary. Lou Brock is a Hall of Famer.
Iím not trying to take any credit away from Wills for the stats he produced. Theyíre all his. I also praise him for helping the Dodgers win many games, pennants and World Seriesess. I mean, in that respect, as far as Iím concerned, thank God for Maury Wills.
But the conventional wisdom that those stats had a profound effect on the game itself? Whatís that stuff you wash hogs with? Oh yeah - hogwash.
I guess you had to see Maury Wills to appreciate him. No, thatís not true. I appreciate him, and I never saw him play. I guess you had to see him to over-appreciate him.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
12 11 10 09 08 07
06 05 04 03 02 01
09 08 07
Jon's other site:
Thank You For Not ...
1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity