Baseball Toaster Dodger Thoughts
Monthly archives: August 2003


Update: Dodger postseason chances, from
2003-08-31 18:54
by Jon Weisman

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 31
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
87 ... Philadelphia (42.9 percent)
86 ... Florida (22.1 percent)
86 ... Houston (4.4 percent)
86 ... St. Louis (4.4 percent)
85 ... Arizona (10.8 percent)
84 ... Los Angeles (6.8 percent)
83 ... Montreal (3.9 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from
2003-08-30 07:51
by Jon Weisman

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 30
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
87 ... Philadelphia (37.0 percent)
86 ... Florida (18.7 percent)
85 ... Arizona (16.4 percent)
85 ... St. Louis (4.7 percent)
85 ... Houston (4.6 percent)
84 ... Montreal (8.4 percent)
84 ... Los Angeles (5.5 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

Those dang Diamondbacks get to play the Giants while Barry Bonds is mourning.

Angels on the Basepaths
2003-08-29 09:12
by Jon Weisman

In writing about Anaheim's disappointing 2003 season Thursday, Aaron Gleeman mades some points that are pertinent to thinking about the Dodgers:

Last year, Mike Scioscia was the king of the hit and run, the king of the stolen base, he was setting guys in motion and "making things happen" - and we all know how much baseball writers and announcers like that. That part of Anaheim's offense and the impact Scioscia had in that area were praised constantly as one of the main keys to their World Series run.

And this year? Not so much. I haven't heard a single thing about how brilliant Scioscia's managerial tactics have been when it comes to the running game and aggressive baserunning this year. ...

The Angels are actually running slightly more often this year than they did last year. They are on pace to steal about 10 more bases. They are also getting caught at a slightly higher rate, which isn't all that unexpected when you are running more often.

Yet, I don't think I have heard a single broadcaster bring up the Angels' work on the bases as a reason for their record this year, and I don't think I have read a single article opining that Scioscia's fondness of running and hit and running is the cause of their current place in the standings. I find it interesting that they are essentially doing the same things on the bases that they did last year and they are even doing it a little more this season, yet somehow it is no longer the reason for their record and their success (or lack thereof).

(Italics mine.)

When the Dodgers aren't scoring runs, the first thing that the letter-writers to the Times carp about is the lack of an ability to manufacture runs by the steal, sacrifice or hit-and-run. I wish it were possible for these people to understand that 1) those strategies require talent from your hitters, just like anything else, and 2) those strategies manufacture runs the way Ford manufactured cars pre-assembly line.

As Gleeman concluded:

Of course, in reality, Anaheim's work on the bases was pretty far down on the list of things that caused them to win a World Series title last season. When seemingly everyone on the team is having a career year with the bat, hitting .300 and smoking balls into the gaps everytime there is a runner on base, it makes a lot of other things look good and important.

Worse Things First
2003-08-29 08:42
by Jon Weisman

The Dodgers' four-game losing streak this week was grim, but it was nothing compared to the tailspin Philadelphia and Florida have encountered. Michael Blake captures the meltdown in sharp relief on View from the 700 Level.

I thought before the season started that Larry Bowa's presence as manager of the Phillies would allow Atlanta to maintain its hold on the National League East title. However, I also surmised that Jeff Torborg's presence as manager of the Marlins would leave them in last place. Little did I know that the Marlins would fire Torborg so efficiently.

By the way, I'd like to get one thing straight. I don't buy for a second that the Braves have won consecutive division titles since 1991. Montreal won the 1994 NL East title, strike year or not. Baseball recognizes individual statistical champions - Tony Gwynn, for example, gets credit for hitting .394 to win the NL batting race. Why on earth would the sport honor player accomplishments from a strike year but not team accomplishments?

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 29
Wins ... Team
86 ... Philadelphia
86 ... Houston
86 ... St. Louis
85 ... Florida
85 ... Arizona
84 ... Montreal
83 ... Los Angeles


Once more, I refer you to Paul Hagen's article outlining tiebreaker scenarios.

Man, That Was a Heck of a Catch
Dave Roberts, take a bow. And don't let any fans reach out and hit you as you do.

I'd like some assurance that the umpires would have called interference on that fan in center field if it had been necessary. No need for a repeat of what happened to benefit Shawn Green and the Dodgers against Montreal last week.

I think Marquis Grissom saved Eric Gagne's save-ory bacon in similar fashion at Dodger Stadium last year. Update: John Wiebe has the story.

Cora Corraled
Alex Cora laced a nice single off left-handed Astros pitcher Mike Gallo in Thursday's Dodger victory.
Has Cora's OPS dipped from .805 in 2002 to .579 in 2003 in part because of a mistaken belief by Dodger manager Jim Tracy that Cora hits righties better than lefties?

Since 2001, Cora has been a more productive hitter against southpawmen. This season, however, Cora has had only 53 plate appearances against them.

Come on Down
According to Baseball Digest, Moises Alou's idol growing up was Pedro Guerrero.

Alou's favorite movie is Ghost and his favorite television show is The Price is Right.

Eric Enders, Come on Down
From the Times: "The Dodgers will conduct an Eric Gagne look-alike contest Sunday during the Viva Los Dodgers festival, which celebrates Los Angeles' Latino heritage. The winner will meet Gagne before Sunday's game against the Rockies."

Finally ...
Thanks to all those who sent best wishes about the house. They were truly appreciated.

Nomo Gets Mail! Nomo Gets Mail!
2003-08-28 09:46
by Jon Weisman

Those of you watching this generation of Sesame Street will understand that headline.

Rip Rense, for whom the word "blogger" does no justice, sent me a letter regarding Wednesday's Hideo Nomo column.

Dear Jon,

I don't profess great sports knowledge, but I am so pleased to see somebody somewhere writing about how great Nomo is. You sure don't find it in the Times, or in those Jim Tracy quotes where he asks himself a question, then answers it. Stats that favor Brown aside, Nomo is remarkable, having rebuilt his pitching style into something perhaps more dependable and intimidating than in his earlier, more powerful incarnation. He is a damn warrior out there - up for every game, stoic, tough. With better offense, he'd have won 20-plus games last year and this year. He should be right in the running for the Cy Young. Nomo and Dave Roberts are really the only things I like about this team.

Anyhow, well done.

Rip Rense

This letter allows me to do a postscript on the Nomonia column that I left out - the fact that I was disappointed to find that Kevin Brown had the slim statistical edge on Nomo. I was rooting for the stats to bear out my emotions. To my surprise and gratification, Nomo really has been the epitome of stalwart over the past year - it has really been something to see. Even the walks he allows, properly noted by Robert Tagorda, add to his legend in my eyes - they make him the warrior with the Achilles' heel. Oh - I guess I could just say they make him Achilles.

Anyway, obviously Nomo's first-inning explosion Wednesday night hurt and hurts. But the guy definitely deserves due recognition for in many ways being the backbone of the best pitching staff in baseball.

* * * Update: Dodger
2003-08-28 09:33
by Jon Weisman

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 28
Wins ... Team
87 ... Philadelphia
87 ... Houston
86 ... Florida
85 ... St. Louis
85 ... Arizona
84 ... Montreal
82 ... Los Angeles

I'm assuming the NL wild card will finish with a record over .500, but with teams like Milwaukee ripping off nine-game winning streaks while the Phillies, et al lose five times a week, who knows?

Ashby in Escrow
2003-08-28 08:50
by Jon Weisman

I come to you this morning, 13 hours after receiving the news that I have made the biggest purchase of my life - a bigger purchase, it seems like, than all previous purchases combined. My wife and I have bought a house.

It's a good house, in a good neighborhood. Not the prettiest in the world, but it'll do, pig, it'll do. Although it will be about 15 degrees on the average day there than the area I currently live in, there will be shade to be found. Although the yard is small, there will be space inside and out for my daughter to play. It's got the schools, the parks, the shops - all within walking distance.

I come to you this morning, the impending move occupying just about all the mental energy I have. Knowing I couldn't get the perfect house, but believing we made the best possible purchase. Trying to feel excited, but fearing something's wrong because I'm more anxious than excited.

All because I know that even the best intentions can turn out to be ... Andy Ashby.

To be sure, my house cost less than the $22.5 million the Dodgers spent to watch Ashby have four decent months over three years. In April, May, June and August, 2002, Ashby had a 2.95 ERA in 152 1/3 innings. In the other 13 in-season months of his Dodger career, Ashby's ERA has been 6.08 in 111 innings.

Ashby has now been sent to the bullpen for the final month of his Dodger career (although at any moment an injury to one of the Dodger starters could bring Ashby out again). In the morning papers, Ashby reacts to the decision with grudging understanding. In the Daily News, for example:

"I'm not going to worry about it anymore," Ashby said. "I didn't throw well so they're not going to let me (start). I'll do what they want me to do, and that's it. I've been there before; it's nothing shocking, so to hell with it. I'll do what they want me to do, and then go on."
Let's face it - paying $22.5 million to a ballplayer that says "to hell with it" is a vintage Money Pit moment. My question: Would it hurt more if the Dodgers had reason to believe Ashby should have performed better over the life of his contract? Would it hurt more if the Dodgers had real reason to be disappointed?

Because they do and they don't.

From 1994-1996 and in 1998, Ashby posted ERAs below 3.50. In 1997 and in 1999, his ERAs were 4.13 and 3.80. In 2000, his ERA soared to 4.92, but even that last ERA isn't as bad as it looks. According to, Ashby's ERA in 2000 was nearly at the league average - and after being traded from Philadelphia to Atlanta, it was well above.

So when Dodger general manager Kevin Malone pursued Ashby in the 2000-2001 offseason, he could be excused for thinking that Ashby might be worth taking a flyer on.

A flyer, however, is not $22.5 million. That's a Hindenburg.

The man replacing Ashby in the rotation, Wilson Alvarez - now he was a flyer. I'm not suggesting that Ashby in 2000 didn't deserve more than the $750,000, one-year contract Alvarez got in 2003, but it's not hindsight to say that low-seven-figures was the neighborhood to settle in. That's what everyone was thinking at the time.

Ashby has been a disappointment, but the disappointment began before he threw his first Dodger pitch. The Dodgers had no business signing him to that contract, and for all of Dan Evans' faults, I'm glad that the man now in charge is not a man who would repeat that mistake.

As for me, my family and my house, well, wish us luck. It's a big commitment for the franchise, but signs point to success. We just have to make sure the house passes its physical. Don't want it to end up on the DL in its first month.

2003-08-27 08:34
by Jon Weisman

It's silly to talk now about who will win the Cy Young Award, because the award is very often won in September. Take 2002, when Randy Johnson stepped up to take the prize from teammate Curt Schilling.

But as Cy Young Fever gripped this week with a series of articles and polls, one candidate was being dismissed almost out of hand. And though it may be too early to annoint a winner, it wouldn't be too early to make sure someone's nominated.

Out of more than 23,000 votes, Hideo Nomo received 3.8 percent for the National League Cy Young award. Russ Ortiz received four times as many, despite an ERA that is nearly a full run higher than Nomo's.

Let's not even debate Ortiz vs. Nomo - if people follow the Joe Morgan line of thinking that Ortiz's three additional victories on the high-scoring Braves matter more than ERA, there's probably no saving them.

However, we can look at Nomo vs. Kevin Brown. Tuesday, Jim Baker wrote on Insider of Nomo, "He is the second-best starter on his team. To be logical, that means he cannot possibly win the award in place of the best starter, Brown."

Is it true that Brown is better than Nomo? To compare:

Wins: Brown 12, Nomo 15
Run Support: Brown 4.08, Nomo 4.44

Nomo has more wins, but has benefited from better run support.

ERA: Brown 2.15, Nomo 2.70
Unearned runs allowed: Brown 9, Nomo 4
Runs Allowed per 9 Innings: Brown 2.62, Nomo 2.88

Brown has a better ERA, though it is mitigated by the number of unearned runs he has allowed. Unfair to bring those up? Isn't part of being a good pitcher being able to overcome your teammates' mistakes? Many argue that distinguishing between earned and unearned runs is a waste of time.

Nevertheless, Brown has a significantly better ERA and a slightly better RA.

Innings pitched: Brown 172, Nomo 190 1/3
Starts: Brown 26, Nomo 28
Innings per start: Brown 6.6, Nomo 6.8

Nomo has been slightly more durable.

To this point, Brown has a tiny, tiny edge on Nomo as the best pitcher on the team. Wins vs. run support cancels out as a factor, and innings works in Nomo's favor, but the narrow edge in runs allowed pulls Brown ahead.

Win Shares, according to, supports Brown's case while illustrating just how close this race is. Brown is third in the NL with 16.44 win shares. Nomo is fourth, with 16.23.

Now, Nomo is certainly within range to pull ahead of Brown - and everyone else - with a strong September. ERA advantages, for example, can easily swing in a month.

However, these factors are working against Nomo.

Strikeouts per 9 Innings: Brown 7.90, Nomo 7.28
The more strikeouts you get, the less you rely on the luck of the ball finding your fielders. Advantage, Brown.

Opponents' On-Base Percentage: Brown .283, Nomo .296
Opponent's Slugging Percentage: Brown .310, Nomo .331
Opponent's OPS: Brown .593, Nomo .628

Nomo's slightly higher runs-allowed numbers are no fluke - they are reflective of how he gives up more baserunners and extra-base hits than Brown. If you wagering, the odds are against Nomo gaining ERA ground on Brown.

Nomo and Brown will have approximately seven more starts this season. If Nomo wins five of those, he gets 20 wins - and as Russ Ortiz shows us, wins can have a unreasonably powerful effect on legitimizing one's Cy Young candidacy.

Based on the important numbers, however, the pundits are correct to pick Brown as the best Dodger starter.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: Still waiting
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 26
Wins ... Team
88 ... Philadelphia
87 ... Florida
86 ... Arizona
86 ... Houston
85 ... St. Louis
84 ... Los Angeles
82 ... Montreal

In an otherwise impatient, lonely world, the teeming crowd is shoving the Dodgers back from a train that refuses to leave them behind.

* * *

Feeling bad about Brian Giles? Console yourself with Aaron Boone's continued struggles: .478 OPS and now, according to Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus, "a sprained ankle which he turned, embarrassingly, while running out to his position."

Without Guile, Giles
2003-08-26 09:17
by Jon Weisman

As if the Dodgers didn't have enough trouble with the Padres, Los Angeles will now face them seven times in September with the addition of Brian Giles and his .322 EQA - eighth-best in the National League - to the Padre outfield. San Diego finally consummated its trade with Pittsburgh for Giles, and did not even have to take on Jason Kendall's contract in the process.

* * *

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 26
Wins ... Team
88 ... Philadelphia
87 ... Florida
86 ... Arizona
86 ... Houston
85 ... St. Louis
84 ... Los Angeles
82 ... Montreal

* * * Update: Dodger
2003-08-25 09:05
by Jon Weisman

* * *

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

With one loss Saturday, the Dodgers lost two days of gains. The effect of Sunday's loss wasn't so dramatic; the Phillies' Sunday loss appeared to hurt them more.

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 24
Wins ... Team
90 ... Philadelphia
87 ... Arizona
87 ... Florida
85 ... Houston
85 ... St. Louis
84 ... Los Angeles
81 ... Montreal

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of August 25
Wins ... Team
89 ... Philadelphia
87 ... Florida
86 ... Arizona
86 ... Houston
85 ... St. Louis
84 ... Los Angeles
81 ... Montreal

Thanks to Jim Baker at, I know that Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News broke down what happens in the event of multi-team ties.

Speaking of Strange, Check Out What's at the Souvenir Stand
2003-08-25 06:32
by Jon Weisman

A souvenir jersey, in the style of the Houston Astros' uniforms of the 1970s, but with Dodger colors and the word Dodgers on the front.

So strange, it must be cool. But what exactly are we homaging with that one?

And to Think I Used the Word 'Pissed' Three Times on Sunday
2003-08-25 06:12
by Jon Weisman

So I walk into the men's room at Dodger Stadium, like I've done many times in the past 30-odd years, and what do I see that I've never seen before.

(Tantalizing lead-in, huh?)

An ad for, framed on the wall like a diploma.

What an institution for higher learning Dodger Stadium has become.

There were several other frames, judiciously placed above the sink, above the trash cans, above the trough. Another had a Sportsline ad, while several carried your basic "Your Ad Here!" pitch.

My ad there? Right there? Think of the possibilities ...

Dodger Thoughts: So Good, You'll Pee in Your Pants
Dodger Thoughts: We Really Let It Flow
Urine the Know with Dodger Thoughts

Think those sound bad? Considering the home team was about to lose its second straight game to the Mets, thanks to two errors on the same play, one seems cordially invited by these signs to comment about the piss-poor Dodgers.

Well, the Dodgers got a gift when Milwaukee swept Philadelphia last week. They have now too generously given much of that gift back, but still somehow trail in the wild card by only three games. So no one outside of the Atlanta Braves or the mourning San Francisco Giants has much more to feel free and easy about than the Dodgers do.

But I have to say, when you're a team trying to prove deserving of the October spotlight, it seems more than a little pathetic that providing income-generating bathroom reading material has grabbed any share of your time and energy. Hardly the biggest desecration of Dodger Stadium, but most certainly the tackiest.

Not well-hung, my Dodger friends. Not well-hung.

Cry Us a River, Jack
2003-08-24 10:01
by Jon Weisman

Jack Clark continues to make Gray Davis look like the king of introspection.*

Clark talked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about being fired as Dodger hitting coach, talked about coming back too soon from his motorcycle accident, talked about the players that were injured, talked about the lack of talent on the team.

The article offers no quotes from Clark on his inability to help the players who were healthy, much less any reason to understand why Clark deserved the hitting coach job in the first place.

It's fine for Clark to be pissed that he was fired, pissed about his situation, pissed about the whole damn year. But if he can't acknowledge at all that the Dodgers had some reason to dream that someone could do better than him, I don't know how we're supposed to sympathize. Clark comes back too soon from an injury that came from his own recklessness, shows that he's incapable of having any positive impact on the team, no matter how weak the talent is, and we're supposed to feel that the Dodgers are the bad guys?

Team officials are offering no comment, but given the second-guessing they have gotten from the press while producing a playoff contending team with the talent that Clark derides, I can only imagine what they are muttering under their breath.

*By the way, I'm anti-recall.

Update: Dodger chances of making
2003-08-23 08:05
by Jon Weisman

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 6.5 percent
Friday: 5.8 percent
Thursday: 4.2 percent
Wednesday: 2.3 percent

2003-08-22 09:02
by Jon Weisman

The top 15 offensive explosions in the career of Cesar Izturis, who won Thursday's game for the Dodgers with two RBI-doubles.

1) 7/8/01: 3 for 4 with a double and a triple vs. Montreal
2) 7/7/01: 3 for 5 with a home run vs. Montreal
3) 4/5/02: 3 for 5 with a double and a triple vs. Colorado
4) 5/29/03: 3 for 4 with a double and a walk at Colorado
5) 6/4/02: 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks at Colorado
6) 6/15/02: 4 for 5 with a double vs. Anaheim
7) 4/2/03: 3 for 3 with a walk at Arizona
8) 7/13/03: 2 for 5 with a double and a triple at Colorado
9) 8/21/03: 2 for 4 with two doubles, two RBI in a 2-1 victory vs. Montreal
10) 5/11/02: 3 for 4 with a double at Florida
11) 6/30/01: 3 for 4 with a double vs. Boston
12) 5/11/03: 2 for 3 with a double and a walk at Montreal
13) 9/4/01: 3 for 5 with a double vs. New York Yankees
14) 9/1/02: 2 for 4 with a double, 2 RBI in a 2-1 victory over Houston
15) 5/17/02: 2 for 4 with a double vs. Montreal

How about the two best days of Izturis' career coming back-to-back? Of course, he was with Toronto then.

Montreal and Colorado were the opponents in nine of Izturis' top 15 offensive games.

Thursday marked the first time this season that Izturis had driven in all the Dodgers' runs in a game, which considering their offense, shouldn't be that hard to do. Izturis also did this on September 1, 2002.

The Dodgers are 34-13 (.723) in games in which Izturis has an RBI.

* * *

Update: Dodger chances of making the postseason, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.8 percent
Thursday: 4.2 percent
Wednesday: 2.3 percent

On Baseball Musings, David Pinto shows the strength of schedule for the wild card contenders. It does look like the race could become even more compacted, with leaders Philadelphia and Florida facing the toughest schedule. Baseball Prospectus calculates SOS differently, but the rankings are the same.

Still, BP gives Philadelphia is given a 51 percent chance of making the playoffs, compared to 23 percent for Florida. That appears to be because, based on the runs they have scored and allowed this season, the Phillies still have more potential to do better.

The AL-NL Central Division Race
2003-08-21 11:17
by Jon Weisman

Six teams. One game in the standings.

66-60 Houston
65-60 Chicago Cubs
65-60 Kansas City
66-61 Chicago White Sox
65-61 Minnesota
65-61 St. Louis

Sad Goodbyes
2003-08-21 09:47
by Jon Weisman

Two influential figures in my life died in the past week.

Roy Neal was a neighbor and a family friend. For the pivotal decades of the 1960s and 1970s, he was the lead NBC national correspondent on the space program. When I was almost 8 years old, Neal invited myself, my mother and my cousin to Houston to watch the end of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission (the first-ever link between American and Soviet crafts in space) from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. This was one of the most memorable experiences of my childhood, and even then, I knew how incredible an opportunity it was for him to offer.

Roy's son, David, later worked for NBC in sports, eventually rising to become the head of NBC's Olympic coverage. David gave me my first job, working as a gopher for NBC Game of the Week broadcasts in Los Angeles (where I also worked with his brother, Mark), and got me the experience that enabled me to earn jobs working for NBC in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992. I also worked for Roy's wife and David's mother, Pat, in a non-sports related job. Great people, great friends to our family.

Roy passed away last week at the age of 82. My sympathy and very best wishes - and thanks - all go out to the entire Neal family.

* * *

I never once heard Ken Coleman as a broadcaster, but he was a impressive figure in my childhood.

The former Red Sox broadcaster once wrote a book, So You Want to Be a Sportscaster. As someone who gave up hopes of being a pro athlete before junior high, I dreamed for many years of following in Vin Scully's footsteps. Ultimately, I fell in love with writing and acknowledged that I didn't exactly have the personality of, well, a personality. But in that era, Coleman's book was my bible - one I read over and over again.

Coleman died this week at the age of 78. I'm sorry I never got to hear him call a game, but I thank him all the same.

Win One for the Gagne
2003-08-21 09:11
by Jon Weisman

Back to reality, with some notes on Wednesday's game ...

It just seemed funny when the Dodger Stadium scoreboard showed a kid wearing an Eric Gagne replica jersey - from the National League All-Star team. It turned out to be an omen.

Gagne came into a scoreless game (we've already been through this) Wednesday throwing thunderbolts. His first five pitches were strikes, and once he got that hump strike, the thought had to cross the mind of everyone in the ballpark that he could strike out the side on nine pitches.

I was thinking the same thing, but it also occured to me that Vladimir Guerrero might be as well, and that Gagne should waste a pitch.

In fact, the next batter Gagne faced, Orlando Cabrera, fell behind 0-2 and then got a pitch over and behind his head. That would have been a good one to throw to Vlad.

Instead, Gagne grooved one and Guerrero smacked it well over the short fence in left field for a tie-breaking home run, the second Gagne had allowed - not the first, as I incorrectly wrote hours earlier - in more than a year.

Gagne finished the ninth inning having thrown 15 pitches, but only one ball. When the Dodgers miraculously tied the game in the bottom of the ninth on three ground balls totaling about 175 feet, Gagne was in position to pitch the 10th thanks to his rest, his strength and the double-switch that Jim Tracy had made.

Gagne got the first two men out in the 10th before giving up a 2-2 double to Expos reserve Jamey Carroll. Endy Chavez then fell behind 1-2, but fouled off three pitches and worked out a walk.

By this time, Gagne was up to 37 pitches, and the Dodgers needed to get someone up in the bullpen. One more batter reaching base, and Gagne might be heading toward a 50-pitch night and possibly a blowout loss to match his May meltdown against Atlanta.

However, facing the same batter twice in a game for the first time since October 3, 2001, Gagne got Jose Vidro to ground out to first, setting the stage for Adrian Beltre's heroics.

By the way, as long as everyone's pointing out conicidences like how hot Beltre is in August, or how hot Beltre is since Robin Ventura was acquired, can one point out how hot Beltre is since Jack Clark was fired? Beltre has a .956 slugging percentage in August, but since Clark was fired on August 3, Beltre's OPS is even higher: 1.006.

With the victory, the Dodgers chance of making the postseason, according to Baseball Prospectus, leapt overnight from 2.3 percent to 4.2 percent. Bandwagon jumpers, get your bandwagon jumping shoes on.

It helped that much of the wild-card competition got pummeled Tuesday. At 7:52 p.m., Colorado-Pittsburgh-Milwaukee-Cincinnati led Florida-St. Louis-Philadelphia-Arizona, 34-1. The Dodgers are now four games out, and following today's series finale with the Expos, will face the last-place if Mike Piazza-rejuvenated Mets while Florida travels to San Francisco, Chicago travels to Arizona and Philadelphia travels to St. Louis.

Wilson Alvarez may not win the Comeback Player of the Year award on his team - Kevin Brown has had a hold on that since May - but what a comeback Alvarez is having. In 53 1/3 innings, he now has an ERA of 2.36 and 54 strikeouts. His WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) is 0.99. He has enjoyed pitching at Dodger Stadium, where his ERA is 0.92, but even Alvarez's road ERA of 4.05 exceeds expectations.

Will Shawn Green be a candidate for Comeback honors in 2004? Perhaps not, but his difficult season took an uncertain turn for the worse when he left Wednesday's game in the fifth inning with a neck sprain. When we learned why Green left, our longtime family friend, Anita, said, "Neck sprain? What happened - is that noose tightening?"

No announcement of Green's departure was made until after Jeromy Burnitz, who moved over to right field when Green left, misplayed a sinking liner. It so resembled how Green might have played the ball that it was only when Burnitz turned around and revealed his jersey number that we realized Green was gone.

For every Comeback award, perhaps there should be a Go Away award. Last night's would have gone to the young lad in our aisle who tried - nay, insisted - that he get on the jumbo scoreboard. The boy took center stage with the sincerity and joy of Bobby Knight at a press conference, stuck his tongue out at the cameraman each inning that he was ignored, and after a few innings, had the happy look of a Vegas tourist who was running through his eighth bucket of quarters at the slots.

Perhaps rewarding the wrong behavior, but ending everyone's misery, the boy finally got his screen time. He ran back to his seat with the first sign of real glee that any of us had seen, and everyone could go back to enjoying the game.

An inning or so later, young Dr. Jekyll was back at it again, trying for his second seconds of fame.

As a parent, I fear any criticism I make will come back to kick me in the rear, but as a baseball fan, it's never to soon to teach or learn a little grace. Like driving, a chance to be on the fancam is a privilege, not a right.

Zeile Signs to Play in L.A.
2003-08-21 08:35
by Jon Weisman

LOS ANGELES - Major League Baseball, owner of the Montreal Expos, signed veteran third baseman Todd Zeile to a contract for the remainder of the season.

It was erroneously thought that Zeile, who went 1 for 3 with a walk in his debut with his new organization Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, would spend the rest of 2003 with the Expos. However, baseball announced that the UCLA graduate had instead been signed to play for visiting teams at Dodger Stadium.

Zeile will suit up for Montreal in today's afternoon game against the Dodgers. Then, while the Expos head down to San Diego, Zeile will stay in his hometown and put on the uniform of the New York Mets for a three-game weekend series at Chavez Ravine.

"It's nice not to have to travel at this point in my career," said Zeile, who will turn 38 on Sept. 9. "And I think that with my veteran presence, I can really make a difference with this team. And that one. And the one after that."

The itinerant Zeile, who has homered for a record 10 major-league teams, added that most of the teams he plays for will have his uniform measurements already, easing the series-to-series transition.

MLB commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig likened the arrangement to that of a university inviting a visting professor to its campus for a pre-determined period. Selig noted that Zeile, who is batting .212 with six home runs this season, could serve as a goodwill ambassador for the game.

"In fact, Zeile has already picked up 'Goodwill' as his new nickname," Selig said.

Selig added that he had tried to sign Zeile last week, in time to have him play guitar with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at their Dodger Stadium concert Sunday, but that Zeile did not arrange to have his physical in time.

Zeile is familiar with Dodger Stadium, having first come home to Los Angeles in 1997 before leaving a year later in the Mike Piazza-Gary Sheffield trade, and will have more time to reacquaint with the ballpark next week. While the Dodgers make an unusually brief three-game road trip to Houston, Zeile will say in Los Angeles for informal workouts. His next game after the Mets series will be with Colorado beginning Aug. 29.

Dodger manager Jim Tracy acknowledged the challenge of facing the same player over and over again.

"Yeah, Todd Zeile," Tracy said. "How about that?"

Dodger executives have already planned seven Todd Zeile bobblehead nights - one for each opposing uniform he will wear.

Zeile's wife, Julianne McNamara (the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics) is happy to have her hubby home.

"It had gotten to the point where he had played in so many different cities, I never knew what channel to put on to find his games," McNamara said. "Now, I'll know not to bother watching unless I hear Vin Scully's voice."

Ain't that the truth.

Governor Garvey?
2003-08-20 16:02
by Jon Weisman

In The Pinstriped Bible this week, Steven Goldman writes:

There is some kind of cosmic irony at work when Upton Sinclair couldn't get elected governor of California, but Arnold Schwarzenegger will. Many of you have probably had this thought, but as I peruse the list of multifarious types who have registered for the recall ballot, I keep thinking, "Where is Steve Garvey?"
Actually, I hadn't had the thought at all - but I feel like I should have. In any case, my answer is, I think Garvey is at home, mulling over the realization that he might finish with fewer gubernatorial votes than Gary Coleman.

It does occur to me that Peanuts Lowery could have won the goobernatorial race.

Homer Follies
2003-08-20 14:18
by Jon Weisman

Shawn Green's disputed home run Tuesday, No. 12 on the season, moved him five ahead of Jeromy Burnitz for home runs as a Dodger this season. Burnitz, who joined the team six weeks ago, is tied for fourth with Paul Lo Duca at seven homers - with an injured Fred McGriff well within reach at 10. ...

Rickey Henderson has fallen to 99th on the all-time home run list with 297 (Tino Martinez passed him last night), and won't stick in the top 100 for long. Edgar Martinez and Carlos Delgado, each with 295 homers, will probably pass Rickey by season's end. ...

Of major-leaguers 24 and under, Adrian Beltre ranks seventh in home runs. ...

Two years ago, Paul Lo Duca nearly had more home runs (25) than strikeouts (30). Last year, he slipped to 10 and 31. This season, Lo Duca is at 7 and 46. ...

Daryle Ward finally homered, for Las Vegas. He now has one home run in 191 professional at-bats this season. ...

More than a year has passed since the last regular-season home run allowed by Eric Gagne, on August 13, 2002. Correction: Gagne allowed a home run to Colorado on May 29 this year. ...

Only 29 home runs (out of 98) hit against the Dodgers this season have been with men on base. That's 1.4 per week. ...

Jane Leavy Interview on Bronx Banter
2003-08-20 11:25
by Jon Weisman

Alex Belth has a terrific conversation with the author of the recent Sandy Koufax biography.

Nothing Profound Here
2003-08-20 08:55
by Jon Weisman

At about 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Dodgers were poised to pull within four games of the Phillies and - okay, I'm bringing it up - eight games of the Giants.

Thinking about the half hour that followed makes me feel ...


Worse things that could have happened:

1) The Dodgers could have traded for Tony Womack.

2) Oh, you know, I'm sure there are things.

Baseball Prospectus' new Postseason Odds Report gives the Dodgers a 2.3 percent chance of making the 2003 playoffs at this point. One chance in 50.

I'll be out there tonight, rooting for the Dodgers to crack the 3 percent barrier.

He Came, He Saw, He Conquered
2003-08-19 12:48
by Jon Weisman

As you know, I can barely bring myself to talk about missing the Springsteen concert at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. Robert Hilburn's surprisingly (for him) ambivalent review of the show did little to comfort me, and this stirring recap from The Back Page just twists the knife.

Rough Times at the Playground
2003-08-19 09:06
by Jon Weisman

Of all the warped scenarios one can envision for a kid at recess, imagine the horror of playing leapfrog, being leapfrogged by the other kids and not being able to get your flailing body to leapfrog in return.

Yep, we're pickin' at scabs today, folks. We're going to show just how frustrating it has been to be a Dodger fan in the past six years. While some teams have dominated the playgfound for years, and others have learned how to play leapfrog, no team has come closer to making the playoffs without succeeding than the bullied boys in blue.

Games Out of a Playoff Spot, 1997-2002

N.Y. Yankees00000006
San Francisco0110.502013.53
N.Y. Mets41.50062031.52
St. Louis116.52100038.53
Los Angeles26.519.5863.545.50
Chicago White Sox6918.50813.5551
San Diego14022.5181329.5971
Chicago Cubs16029.529518.5981
Kansas City1916.529.5142632.5137.50
Tampa BayN/A2925183443.5149.50

*Seasons in the playoffs

From 1998 to 2002, nine teams made the playoffs after having been farther away than the Dodgers the season before:

1998: San Diego, Chicago Cubs, Boston, Texas
1999: Arizona
2000: St. Louis
2001: Houston, Arizona
2002: Anaheim

There will be more this year, because the Dodgers came closest to making the playoffs of any team that didn't make them in 2002. As many as five teams could leapfrog the Dodgers in 2003.

Of the teams that made the Dodgers look silly, while some were flukes, others were establishing themselves as perennial contenders. Overall, of the 40 playoff spots passed out since 1998, 10 of the teams were 10 or more games out of the playoffs the year before. That means that 25 percent of the playoff teams came out of anything resembling nowhere. Take comfort or consternation from that figure, as you wish.

More bullet points flying at you, like it was your worst dodgeball nightmare:

  • The Dodgers have missed the playoffs by an average of 7 1/2 games per season.

  • They have been within 10 games of a playoff spot in five of the past six seasons. No other non-playoff team has been that close in more than three seasons.

  • To look at it another way, the Dodgers have been more consistently competitive for a playoff spot than nine teams that have made the playoffs.

  • Unlike the Dodgers, 19 out of 30 teams have made the playoffs since 1997. Philadelphia and Kansas City could bring the total to 21.

  • The Angels made the biggest leap out of nowhere, winning the World Series a season after finishing 27 games out of a playoff spot. The Dodgers haven't been that far back since 1992.

  • Florida has not finished within 12 games of a playoff spot since 1997, yet could make its second playoff appearance at the Dodgers' expense this year.

  • The next-most frustrated team after the Dodgers, Cincinnati, actually forced a one-game playoff in 1999.
Barring a significant rally in the season's final 40 games, the Dodgers will solidify their standing as the playground's top recess reject.

The question for Dodger fans is this: Would you trade your recurring near-misses for the highs and lows of a Florida or Texas?

Another question for Dodger fans would be: How long will the above question have to be asked?

International Man of Mystery
2003-08-18 08:20
by Jon Weisman

It's the hot topic of the dog days. The perplexing, confounding, astounding Adrian Beltre is at it again, raking it in August like New Englanders rake it in November.

Beltre leads the National League and is tied for the major league lead in RBI for August. He has taken over the Dodger team lead in RBI and home runs and, with Shawn Green, has keyed a relatively resurgent Dodger offense. (Think of a swimming pool heating from 60 to 63 degrees.)

Beltre has an OPS of .931 in August, to go with an .890 in August 2002 - his best months of the year in both instances. His OPS in August 2001 of .724 was his third-best that season (the appendectomy year), but in August 2000, he knocked out a 1.032 OPS - his best month of the century.

Everyone's been wondering what causes this explosion each year as Leo transitions to Virgo, but I find myself wondering about the effect of a bloomin' Beltre.

By the end of this month, the Dodgers will have played 114 games in the past four Augusts. Of that total, nine - just nine - will have been against NL West opponents. How miniscule is that? Think of something similar to Jason Romano's batting average: .078.

Beltre's best month has as little impact on the Dodgers' divisional hopes as one could imagine. It's like a broken coin machine - it doesn't change anything.

Maybe the Beltre August is not completely meaningless, because every little bit helps - and there is the NL wild card to compete for. However, although the Dodgers trail two NL East teams in the wild-card race this season, it is Arizona and San Francisco that have been the Dodgers' principal playoff competition for almost all of Beltre's major-league career - division or wild card. And against those teams, Beltre has an OPS barely above .500 this season and at just about .700 dating back to 2000.

What's to come? Beltre's OPS has dropped from .880 in August to .762 in September over the past three seasons. If that happens again, it may be less about the turning of the calendar than the returning of opponents like the Diamondbacks and the Giants.

On the other hand, if Beltre can finally keep it going this September, then maybe our man of mystery has finally solved himself.

Hi Hiatt
2003-08-15 16:19
by Jon Weisman

Remember Phil Hiatt? Led the minors in home runs a couple years back while playing AAA ball in the Dodger organization?

Hiatt is still plying his trade, now with the Cubs - and he's talking to fellow blogger Christian Ruzich, aka The Cub Reporter, about life as a latter-day Crash Davis. At one point, Hiatt tells CR that Jim Tracy is "the kind of manager you want."

2003-08-15 09:19
by Jon Weisman

In his daily newsletter Thursday, Lee Sinins wrote that Jason Romano has the fifth-most plate appearances in a single season in National League history (since 1900, pitchers not included) with an on-base percentage and a slugging percentage each below .100.

1) Hal Finney, 1936, 35 PA, .000/.000
2) Ron Gardenhire, 1983, 33 PA, .091/.063
3) Bubber Jonnard, 1929, 33 PA, .097/.097
4) Alexis Infante, 1990, 32 PA, .069/.071
5) Jason Romano, 2003, 31 PA, .097/.067

Laundry Day
2003-08-15 08:08
by Jon Weisman

You know that shirt, hanging in the back of your closet, that you never thought you'd wear?

The one that you don't even remember why you bought it? The one you wouldn't even consider, except that you're out of clean laundry? The one that makes you dig into your dirty clothes to see if one of your wrinkled regulars can make another go of it?

Until finally you say ...

"Hmm ... Masao Kida? I guess I could wear that."

And why not? After all, you were dressed in Scott Mullen just a couple of weeks ago.

It really isn't like the Dodgers, true stylists when it comes to pitching, to have to go the Goodwill route so often. But today - when everyone in Chicago will be wearing Mark Prior - Los Angeles will be sporting Kida, a hit in Japan but a fashion that hasn't caught on in the States.

With Darren Dreifort, Kazuhisa Ishii and Andy Ashby all unavailable, Kida will be making his first major league start after 51 career relief appearances (all with Detroit) that have left him with a 6.42 career ERA. That makes Kida the least likely starter to take the mound for the Dodgers this season - which is saying something, considering Mullen was also making his first career start when he toiled against Atlanta on August 3.

Last year, in similarly dire pitching straits, the Dodgers had to use Kevin Bierne for three games in September while still clinging to slim playoff hopes. This is a function of the contracts the Dodgers gave to the fragile Kevin Brown and Dreifort.

The Dodgers pulled Brown out of their laundry basket to pitch on three days rest Thursday, perhaps because they thought Ashby could make Friday's start. On the other hand, they might have decided that Kida would have to make a start at some point, and concluded that it was better to sneak him in a game the Dodgers were least likely to win - today's matchup against Prior, who posted a complete-game victory over the Dodgers on Sunday.

It would be overstating to say the Dodgers have conceded today's game - after all, they won the game that Mullen started. And the Cub offense, unlike Atlanta's, is only middle of the road.

But the Dodgers' best hope is that Prior, who has allowed one earned run in 15 innings since coming off the disabled list this month, is not the pitcher at Wrigley Field that he was at Dodger Stadium. This season, Prior has an ERA of 3.61 at home, compared to 2.10 on the road.

Otherwise, it will be the Cubs who are dressed for success today.

Blechstra Innings
2003-08-14 08:42
by Jon Weisman

Extra innings are when the Dodger superiority in pitching should assert itself.

Extra innings are when the Dodger offense should find salvation against the desperation relievers of opposing bullpens.

Instead, the Dodger offense, which prunes in the best of times, has downright disintegrated after the ninth inning, leading to 10 losses in 14 extra-inning games.

Dodger Offense in Extra Innings, 2003

4/1at Arizona10L, 5-44010.
4/6at San Diego13W, 4-314133.214.389.214.603
4/7vs. Arizona12L, 6-410030.300.300.300.600
4/13at San Francisco12L, 5-410032.300.417.300.717
4/24at Cincinnati11L, 3-25011.200.333.200.533
6/10at Detroit12W, 3-111231.273.333.273.606
6/13at Cleveland10W, 4-35120.400.500.6001.100
6/23at San Francisco11L, 3-25010.
7/2vs. San Diego10L, 4-34120.500.5001.2501.750
7/4vs. Arizona10L, 3-13000.
7/24vs. Colorado11W, 1-05120.400.400.400.800
7/25at Arizona15L, 2-118002.
8/12at Florida13L, 5-412001.
8/13at Florida11L, 2-15002.

More blank points for the Dodger extra-inning offense (I'd call them bullet points, but bullets are not what the team is firing.):

  • 1.54 runs per nine extra innings
  • Two extra-base hits in 111 at-bats
  • An OPS that is 13 percent lower than that of Cesar Izturis
  • No hits in the past 35 at-bats - a 12-inning span!
In general, I do believe that one-run games are decided as much by luck as anything else. But I don't know that luck can explain such a collapse.

Dodger manager Jim Tracy has been wise not to wait for a save situation to use Eric Gagne in relief during the extra-inning games of the past two nights. How much more empty, after all, could the Dodger offense run on?

But this week, it has only served to prolong the agony - and further push an exhausting season for the team into a near-catatonic one.

OT Blues
2003-08-13 09:17
by Jon Weisman

I hope to expand on this post later, but in the wake of Tuesday night's painful loss, here is a sad recap of the Dodger record in extra innings:

  • 2003 Dodger record in extra-inning games: 4-9
  • Against National League teams: 2-9
  • Against NL West teams: 2-7
  • Against NL teams in playoff contention (.500 record or better): 1-7
  • Against San Francisco: 0-2
  • Against Arizona: 0-4

2003-08-12 09:45
by Jon Weisman

When Will Carroll and Derek Zumsteg wrote on Baseball Prospectus on Tuesday morning that unnamed sources had told them that Pete Rose would be reinstated by Major League Baseball by 2004, I believed them completely.

I even believed the sources were telling the truth.

But I never believed that any of them were right.

Anytime anyone says something is going to happen, you have to hold your breath until that thing actually does happen. Say it ain't so? Well, saying it ain't so don't make it not so.

For unnamed sources, you have to redouble your level of skepticism.

There are many reasons why sources won't go on the record. One reason is that they might get in trouble for talking. Another reason - maybe they're just shy. But as likely a reason as any other for doing the non-porn Deep Throat is this: the sources can't completely trust their own story. And they don't want to be caught face-egged.

Staying off the record inherently, fundamentally diminishes one's credibility. Will and Derek are on the record - so I can believe their story: "Anonymous sources are telling us X." They're telling the truth. But they may well be wrong.

Just recently, for example, sources told everyone that Arnold would not run for governor. Where are those sources now?

The pressure for a scoop is absolutely intense - intense enough that one local sportswriter you've come to know simply did not want to put up with it and quit doing the work full-time. Eleven years later, I'm still not really sure why scoops are so prized. Sure, a reputation for being first in the business will drive readers to you, the way starving supermarket shoppers flock to the woman serving the sample wieners. But imagine trying to live your life off pigs-in-a-blanket. Scoops don't come every day, and so ultimately, it's clear that what keeps readers coming back is sustained quality coverage.

My first source for sports news is ESPN. If Fox breaks a story, that's great. But I would still want ESPN's take on it. And for that matter, I would want the Times' take on it - even if it's the next day. And for that matter, I'll wait as long as it takes for my Babes in Blogland to articulate their thoughts. (And for that matter, I hope a few of you want my take on things, however late I am.)

I can understand the desire for Baseball Prospectus to go with its Pete Rose story. Nailing this story splashes them across the map in a way that daily, nose-to-the-grindstone intelligent baseball coverage (unfortunately) does not. One type of story is not a substitute for the other - nor is it intended to be. Those who have written online that Baseball Prospectus lost sight of its mission by pursuing the Rose story are wrong. Baseball Prospectus reports baseball news, whether that news is Cesar Izturis and his OBP or Pete Rose and his OTB.

From a true journalistic perspective, however, I simply do not see the value of publishing the Rose story without named sources. This would be my litmus test for depending on unnamed sources for a story: Will people suffer if this story is not published? Example 1: Watergate. Example 2: Hypothetically, unnamed sources tell me that, say, a bridge is in danger of collapsing. I'd weigh the risk of being right vs. being wrong, and go forward if I felt confident that the risk of holding back would harm people other than myself. (But you can be damn sure I'd try to convince people to go on the record. In my experience, many - not all, but many - people who start off by saying "this is off the record" can be talked into changing their minds.)

Now, here's a diabolical thought - perhaps Carroll and Zumsteg are convinced that Rose's return will cause great harm to the game, and they published their true story in the hopes that the ensuing cacophony would prevent Rose's return from actually happening. Thus, the greater good is achieved. (I doubt it, but it's got a nice Wag the Dog feel.)

More likely, the writers thought they had something and simply did not feel the need to be patient enough for others to go on the record with the story. It's not a choice I would make - but it's a choice people make all the time.

For example, ESPN makes that choice all the time. That network has used anonymousources (sounds like stegosauruses) for stories. Peter Gammons, who said Tuesday that Will Carroll is a great writer but is dead wrong on the Rose story, practically reports a rumor a day - and I'm sure he wouldn't want Will keeping score on him.

ESPN responded the way most competitors respond to a scoop (putting aside that ESPN and Baseball Prospectus have an affiliation). ESPN put out its own take on the BP story - namely, that the story was wrong. Furthermore, ESPN got a source to go on the record saying that the story was wrong - MLB president and COO Bob DuPuy. All the credibility in the world, right?

Well, it just goes to show you how little value unnamed sources have when MLB can come out looking as stand-up as Walter Cronkite.

Perhaps the final irony was that in its promos for SportsCenter in the evening, ESPN felt perfectly comfortable teasing its audience with, "Is it finally coming up roses for Pete?" Talk about having the last laugh - ESPN steals the promotional value of Baseball Prospectus' reporting, knowing full well it will trash the story at the top of the hour.

In a manner no different from trying to predict election results from Florida too quickly, "The Scoop" is journalism's Achilles' heel. I'm only one person, but folks, you all have my permission to take a breath before pressing "send." Unless I need to hightail it out of town 'cause an unnamed source with the initials C.L. says the sky is falling, I'll know what I need to know soon enough anyway.

Eric Gagne : Closer :: Adrian Beltre: Cleanup Hitter?

Wishful thinking, I suppose. But Beltre, the Dodgers' biggest disappointment this season, rode the No. 4 spot Monday to take the team lead in home runs. Shawn Green, with only one home run since the All-Star break, has dropped into second ...

His playing time has declined since Robin Ventura arrived, and he still strikes out too often, but Dave Ross definitely has power. Having crossed the 100 plate appearance mark, Ross still has the highest slugging percentage on the team and the most home runs per at-bat...

Victor Alvarez will go to Las Vegas when Kazuhisa Ishii returns from the disabled list, and Jason "Jose Gonzalez" Romano will head there if Fred McGriff completes his rehab. But if Todd Hundley is somehow ready to go before September 1, look for Ross to make a quick gambling run to the 51s until the rosters expand...

The guy who's playing time has suffered the most since the new arrivals: Mike Kinkade. He has only two at-bats in August, and is 1 for 18 since the All-Star break...

Aaron Boone, with the New York Yankees: 4 for 37, 0 walks, .108 batting average, .108 on-base percentage, .135 slugging percentage, .243 OPS. This is not an evaluation or projection, just reporting what's happened so far...

Jolbert Cabrera has an OPS of .962 as a second baseman. But I wish broadcasters would stop marveling at the great record Cabrera has in games that he starts. Cabrera starts mostly against lefthanders, whom the Dodgers have been pounding (relatively) all season. The team OPS is .755 vs. lefties, .629 vs. righties. Yet Cabrera, as I've mentioned before, has hit righties better than lefties this year. It all doesn't quite add up ...

The Elephant Men
2003-08-11 09:53
by Jon Weisman

I'm not going to do this story justice, but here goes...

Saturday, Vin Scully was talking about bad jobs baseball players had before becoming baseball players. He mentioned that Eric Karros said his worst was cleaning up after races at the Cajon Speedway.

Vin then said that that sounded pretty bad, but not as bad as "cleaning up after the elephant parade."

The randomness of this comparison, I thought, was pretty funny in and of itself. But then, my wife said, "That's what I was thinking."

Where are these elephant parades, and how does one get tickets?

What's Done Isn't Done
2003-08-11 08:50
by Jon Weisman

When the Dodgers faced Florida in May this season, we all considered it a foray into a soft part of their schedule. And in fact, the Dodgers did sweep the Marlins, giving them wins 2, 3 and 4 at the front end of their 10-game winning streak. The Marlins left town 19-26, 5 1/2 games behind Los Angeles.

Since then, the Marlins are 45-27, and the Dodgers are 36-36.

The Marlins regular lineup hasn't really changed. Rookie Miguel Cabrera, a third baseman in the minors, has become part of the search for a productive left fielder. Otherwise, you still have C Ivan Rodriguez, 1B Derrek Lee, 2B Luis Castillo, SS Alex Gonzalez, 3B Mike Lowell, CF Juan Pierre and RF Juan Encarcion.

Perhaps the biggest deal offensively for the Marlins is their health: Their top seven guys have missed only 40 games combined this season, an average of less than six games missed per player. (Note: Lee is still adding to that total, having suffered a dislocated shoulder July 28.)

By comparison, your Dodger top eight of Paul Lo Duca, Fred McGriff, Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis, Adrian Beltre, Brian Jordan, Dave Roberts and Shawn Green have missed 168 games.

But one other thing has happened since May.

The day after the Marlins left Los Angeles, Dontrelle Willis faced Montreal in his third career start. He gave up five runs in three innings, and fell to 1-1 with an ERA of 7.07.

Since that time, Willis is 10-1 with a 1.87 ERA.

Everyone's talking about the moves the Dodgers have failed to make this season to stay in contention, but the only transactions the Marlins have transacted in their rally was to add Ugueth Urbina, a relief pitcher who has contributed all of 12 2/3 innings this season, and to not trade Lowell to the Dodgers.

Oh, and they fired their manager, Jeff Torborg, the week before coming to Los Angeles.

I make that last statement for the record, and not as a backhanded comment on Jim Tracy's situation. In fact, in my opinion, Tracy does not even have a "situation," except that other people have raised questions whenever the team isn't on a winning streak. Despite his minor flaws, Tracy has done well just to hold the Dodgers together.

Emotionally, however, it is frustrating and downright confusing to see a team with no apparent talent advantage, in a region that doesn't support it, with perhaps the worst ownership in major league baseball outside of the Expos, only six years after it won the World Series and then held a fire sale, positioned to take a playoff spot from the Big Blue Book of Job.

Guest Columnist (Unbekownst to Him)
2003-08-08 08:51
by Jon Weisman

Because he's written about both Eric Gagne and Dodger Stadium on the same day, I'm going to let Rob Neyer provide the Dodger Thoughts for today.

For more discussion of this article, head on over to Baseball Primer.

How Big? So Big
2003-08-07 16:01
by Jon Weisman

From Steven Goldman, whose writing makes me feel like one of the schlubs waiting to be healed by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, comes this great discussion of big ball vs. small ball. (Scroll down.)

"Bunting and base-stealing make a lot of sense in an environment where runners are unlikely to be advanced by other means or one in which forcing the infielders and the catchers to throw the ball might lead to some free bases," Goldman writes. "Neither condition describes major league baseball today."

However, this does describe major league baseball from the past, which is why some very wizened veterans may cling to the superiority of small ball. Goldman quotes Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus as saying:

"Big ball being better than "small ball" is not an absolute truth; game conditions determine how possible it is to achieve "big" or "small" results. Under past historical conditions, with inferior gloves and less developed and trained team defensive strategies, the sacrifice was a much better play (and still is, today, at lower levels of play).
With the Dodgers having abandoned the sacrifice in recent weeks (although Adrian Beltre did square around to bunt with Robin Ventura on second base Wednesday night - before knocking a game-winning RBI single to right), I haven't pursued this topic as much as when this ripening season was 16 going on 17. But I do have one thought from April 5 that bears repeating.

Frankly, IÕve been wondering what makes mediocre offensive teams like the Dodgers think they would be any better at manufacturing runs than they are at buying them retail. If theyÕre not good enough build an above-average OPS, what makes them think that they can execute a fairly difficult play, the hit-and-run?

2003-08-07 09:14
by Jon Weisman

I know he didn't set the world afire after his two home runs, but I am disappointed at how little Rickey Henderson is playing.

Since going 2 for 4 against Atlanta on Saturday, Henderson has not made it into the past three games.

Dave Roberts - whom I also root for - has a couple of two-hit games this month and has reached base in seven of his past nine games. But he's still only 7 for 31 with three walks and one extra-base hit (.584 OPS) since returning from the disabled list July 26.

My guess is that Dodger manager Jim Tracy has decided that the team can't afford the defensive shortcomings of a Shawn Green-Jeromy Burnitz-Henderson outfield, a legitimate fear I raised when the team acquired Burnitz and Henderson. But still, to not see Rickey in a game at all is bumming me out, especially when he's not being outperformed offensively.

I Did My Worst, But My Worst Just Wasn't Good Enough
2003-08-07 08:57
by Jon Weisman

Todd Sullivan, in a letter to Thoughts from Diamond Mind published Wednesday, points out that the Dodgers could be holding the wild-card slot even with a league-worst offense.

He came to this conclusion through some heady usage of Bill James' Pythagorean theorem of baseball, which as we've discussed before, effectively calculates your expected record based on how many runs you have scored and allowed. (You can find the current Pythandings at the bottom of Rob Neyer's ESPN page.)

Sullivan notes the remarkable difference between the Dodgers and the 15th-place team in scoring, San Diego (as I write this today, the Dodgers are being outscored by the Padres, 4.08 runs per game to 3.45). Then, Sullivan writes:

To own the wild card lead at a modest .600 winning pct., they would need 434 runs; 434 runs would leave LA second to last in the majors (which is where they currently reside). Similarly, to be tied with Philly for the wild card at a .561 winning pct., LA would need 400 runs scored; again second to last in the majors.

In short, LA could be in prime playoff position with the worst offense in the NL and their current pitching/defense, if only they had a better NL worst offense.

The keeper of Diamond Mind, Tom Tippett, wraps up the comment by reminding us that the 2003 Dodger season continues to be truly historic:

LA is indeed in uncharted territory. Through the games of August 3rd, the Dodgers were allowing runs at 68% of the league average rate, the best mark in the history of the game. And they were scoring runs at 71% of the league average rate, a figure that is tied for third-worst of all time.

2003-08-06 08:34
by Jon Weisman

See Dan.

See Dan's hand.

See Dan's hand tied behind his back.

Dan has one hand tied behind his back.

Let's see if Dan can keep the second hand free.

Dodger 2004 Salary Commitments

Shawn Green$16.0 million
Kevin Brown$15.0 million
Darren Dreifort$11.0 million
Hideo Nomo$8.0 million
Todd Hundley$6.5 million
Paul Lo Duca$3.9 million
Paul Shuey$3.8 million
Paul Quantrill$3.1 million
Kazuhisa Ishii$2.6 million
Brian Jordan*$2.5 million
Total$72.4 million

*Buyout of 2004 option

Source: MLB Contracts

That's $72.4 million that the Dodgers and general manager Dan Evans are paying for four starting pitchers, two relievers, a right fielder, two catchers, and Brian Jordan's going-away present.

Eric Gagne will return - he made $550,000 this season, but is in line for a huge raise. With about four seasons of service time under his ample belt, I'm going to pencil him in for at least what Adrian Beltre made this year, rounding up for his fan appeal to put him at $4 million. I think that's conservative.

Though he's trade bait, it's hard to imagine that Odalis Perez won't begin the season with a team that has three fragile starters in Brown, Dreifort and Ishii, not to mention Hideo Nomo turning 35 this month. Perez made $3.4 million after a great 2002; I'm going to give him a baseball cost-of-living increase after his up-and-down 2003 and put him at $4 million.

The rest of the pitching staff can probably come in for about $4 million. Guillermo Mota ($675,000 in 2003) will probably approach the $1 million mark after his sharp 2003, and some combination of guys like Tom Martin, Steve Colyer, Wilson Alvarez, Victor Alvarez and Troy Brohawn to fill the final four spots on the 11-man staff should come to under $3 million total.

We're at $84.4 million. Since I'm estimating now, let's round it to an even (well, odd) $85 million.

From the existing Dodger talent pool, I forsee the following guys returning, though more likely as reserves than as starters: Dave Roberts, Dave Ross and Jolbert Cabrera. I also think the team is so sold on Cesar Izturis defensively that he will return as a starter. (Even if the Dodgers signed a big-time free-agent shortstop, they would then simply move that newcomer or Izturis to second base.) Combined, Roberts, Ross, Cabrera and Izturis made approximately $1.5 million in 2003. Let's bump them up to $2 million for 2004.

The Dodgers now have 18 players at a cost of $89 million.

Nothing's certain while team ownership remains uncertain, but let's round up the Dodgers' $117 million budget for 2003 to $120 million for 2004. That leaves $31 million to fill seven spots:

  • a first baseman
  • a middle infielder
  • a third baseman
  • a left fielder
  • a center fielder
  • two reserves

    Let's finish out the bench with a player at the minimum salary and a small extravagance for a reserve power hitter, since Hundley, Ross and Cabrera could use some pop. A combined $2 million for the two players-to-be-named later who bring the roster up to 20.

    The Dodgers are now paying $91 million, and have this as a starting lineup:

    Lo Duca, C
    Green, RF
    Izturis, SS
    Brown, P

    Let me restate this again for emphasis. The Dodgers are committed to spending $91 million toward 2004 without filling five starting positions.

    The good news for the Dodgers is that in this post-dot-com economic downturn, the team might get two great players for what they're paying Green. Consider that the contract Jim Thome signed in the past several months will pay him $10.5 million in 2004, and that Scott Rolen signed an eight-year deal that pays him only $7.625 million next year.

    Or, if a superstar is your demand, imagine how far $15 million will go.

    The bad news is the massive uncertainty.

    Here's one scenario for the team:

    $4 million player
    Lo Duca, C
    Green, RF
    $13 million player
    $9 million player
    $2 million player
    $1 million player
    Izturis, SS
    Brown, P

    Here's another:

    $6 million player
    Lo Duca, C
    Green, RF
    $9 million player
    $5 million player
    $5 million player
    $4 million player
    Izturis, SS
    Brown, P

    Look, either of those lineups could be plenty. If the Dodgers make some smart decisions, if these players perform at or above their salary level, if there's a clever trade, they have a contender again.

    But Dan Evans faces a lot of uncertainty. Last offseason, the Dodgers were only trying to fill one hole in the lineup - first base - and it did not turn out well. Imagine the pitfalls that Evans faces trying to fill five holes.


  • Jack Clark: Another View
    2003-08-05 14:15
    by Jon Weisman

    Praising other people's work is starting to take up too damn much of my time.

    John Wiebe at John's Dodger Blog takes an even-handed look at Jack Clark, offering evidence for and against him. It's the most thoughtful look at Clark I've seen.

    I do have to say, I think the most compelling information is the chart at the top of the entry, highlighting the decline in the Dodger offensive performance since Clark was hired. Losing 50 home runs and 50 OPS points a year - that can't all be written off as gone with Gary Sheffield.

    Keep Your Priorities
    2003-08-05 13:38
    by Jon Weisman

    Late last week, Robert Tagorda at Priorities and Frivolities wrote that because of time constraints, he would have to reduce the Dodger component of his Dodger-politics website.

    It's a shame, because Robert has written some great stuff about the team. But a bigger shame would be to stop reading Robert's site because of it.

    Certainly, there are even more political blogs than baseball blogs out there in the Interwilderness, but Priorities really deserves special mention. Tagorda, a Truman scholar who just today was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, offers pointed, insightful news and commentary, all with a thoughtful, reasoned rationale. On some issues, he and I fall on different sides of the political spectrum; on others, we are close. In either case, I never fail to learn something from his material.

    My lead to this morning's Dodger entry notwithstanding, political references has been deliberately kept from Dodger Thoughts. But if you have any interest in what's going on outside of the basepaths, read Robert. There are few writers out there who have their biases more firmly in check. I think that's pretty high praise.

    Look Out, Vinny - You're Next
    2003-08-05 10:04
    by Jon Weisman

    This is only tangentially related to the above post, but what kind of nonsense was it this morning for Jason Reid and the Times to try turning Dan Evans' firing of Jack Clark into a News Corp. sale-of-the-team issue?

    The headline of the article was "Firing of Clark Raises Concerns," and the jumphead was "Evans' Change of Heart Concerns Officials."

    In the entire article, this was the only reference to the aforementioned concerns:

    Trying to allay concerns about job security with the Dodgers struggling in late June, General Manager Dan Evans assured Manager Jim Tracy and the coaching staff no in-season changes would be made.

    Late Sunday night, however, Evans and Tracy fired batting instructor Jack Clark after the team returned from a disappointing 2-7 trip. The Dodgers promoted triple-A batting instructor George Hendrick to serve as Clark's interim replacement.

    Details about the closed-door meeting in June at Edison Field were revealed Monday by team officials concerned that Evans would backtrack on his strong comments, causing more uncertainty among employees already nervous about their standing as News Corp. attempts to sell the franchise.

    That's it. Nothing more. Nothing to indicate why the firing of an objectively unsuccessful batting instructor should cause nightmares for the assistant marketing manager or Nancy Bea.

    Do you think anyone buying or selling the Los Angeles Dodgers cares one financial ledger about who the Dodger batting coach is?

    If people are going to get fired in the aftermath of a Dodger sale, believe me, it won't have anything to do with Evans' guarantee or reversal of same - a guarantee, from all that the Times communicates to us - that was made to on-field personnel, not any "officials" of any kind.

    This was a baseball issue. Jack Clark was fired because Jack Clark wasn't doing his job very well. Can anyone do the job? As I wrote on June 25 ...

    There may be no solution - we don't know. What we do know is that [Clark's] current approach does not work. No need to prolong using it.
    ... and as Jim Tracy said in the Times today, six weeks later ...

    "With as much time as there is left in the season, and a chance to find out if a change of a different opinion, a different philosophy or a different voice will make a difference, that's what we're willing to try to find out. That's what we had to be willing to try and find out."
    ... you said it, Jim. The time had come to find out.

    Can we just get rid of the idea, for now and ever, that Clark is the fall guy, the guy unfairly blamed for the lack of talent on the Dodger roster? The players have gotten plenty of blame. Daryle Ward has been sent to the minors. Shawn Green has been ridiculed. Adrian Beltre, as Peter Gammons points out, may not "even get a big league, $500,000 contract next spring." The list goes on and on.

    Clark is by no means the only guy that should be sent to the showers for the Dodger offensive failures in 2003, but that hardly means he should be exempt. A move - a baseball move - needed to be made.

    Am I ranting? I'm sorry if I come across as ranting. I just feel that all season long, the coverage of Jack Clark in the papers has been simpleminded, and if nothing else, I'm hoping a lesson can be taken from it.

    Talk to Floyd
    2003-08-05 09:18
    by Jon Weisman

    Say President Bush makes a decision - bigtime taxcut or something - and the only analysis and quotes in the media regarding the decision came from the Bush Administration. Or even the Bush Administration and the Republican Party. No matter what side of the political fence your house sat on, I doubt you'd feel like you were getting the whole story.

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are not the United States government - make of that what you will - but have you ever noticed how myopic it is that when the Dodgers make a move - be it a trade, a firing, or a call to the bullpen - the only commentary you usually get in a newspaper story is from members of the Dodger organization.

    I've been mulling this over for a while, and the firing of Jack Clark is merely the latest opportunity for me to address this.

    Clark is fired, and who do the papers turn to comment on this. Dodger players. Dodger management. Which is all well and good, but should that be all?

    If something happened with George Bush, or Gray Davis, even a halfwit reporter would seek commentary by outsiders as well as insiders. You might go to one of them there think tanks, for example. Heck, if Sheriff Andy Taylor made an arrest, you wouldn't just talk to Andy and Barney Fife. Your story wouldn't be complete without a quote from Floyd the barber.

    Now, newspapers do have columnists like Ross Newhan and Kevin Modesti, and television networks have commentators like Bobby Valentine and Kevin Kennedy. And that's good - whatever you think of these guys, they bring added perspective.

    But I think it's high time for other people to be consulted for perspective. And that's where the places including but not limited to Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Primer come in.

    Essentially, these websites cut out the middleman that is the mainstream media, performing a tremendous service by expanding the dialogue about a subject we care deeply about. None of us agree with everything they say, but their research-based commentary - the antihesis of the mind-numbing talk radio - makes us all better informed.

    What I want to suggest today is that the middleman needs to get involved, get in the game. If the Dodgers fire Jack Clark, and I'm the beat writer for a major newspaper, I wouldn't just talk to Shawn Green about what a great guy Clark was. I'd also be trying to get ahold of Joe Sheehan at Baseball Prospectus and ask him if he can identify the tangible effects that hitting coaches have had. If Kazuhisa Ishii goes on the disabled list, I wouldn't only want to talk to Baseball Prospectus' health expert Will Carroll about the prognosis, but you can be sure he'd be high on my list.

    Baseball has its own thinktanks, just like politics, and the people in them are not just drunken guys playing Rotisserie Baseball. (Well, they might be, but they're also much more.) They are scholars of the game, they have something to say, and the media needs to exploit them to stay relevant.

    Ward Bonding
    2003-08-04 11:40
    by Jon Weisman

    Daryle Ward's statistics through eight games with Las Vegas:

    31 plate appearances
    25 at-bats
    12 hits (11 singles, one double, no home runs)
    5 walks
    1 sacrifice fly
    .480 batting average
    .548 on-base percentage
    .520 slugging percentage

    The Sultans of Saywhat?
    2003-08-04 08:30
    by Jon Weisman

    Three things I'd write about at length if I had more time at the start of this new week:

  • Jack Clark is fired.

    What I can say quickly: This was just too easy of a call, especially with Clark essentially saying to the press in recent days that he had done all he could do for the offense. Say all you want about the Dodgers not having the talent at the plate, but Clark did as little with that talent as anyone possibly could.

    What I'd explore if I had more time: Clark's interim replacement, George Hendrick, and what comes after the interim.

  • Scott Mullen gets the Sunday start for the Dodgers.

    What I can say quickly: This is the most embarrassing on-field decision by the Dodgers in my memory, and the fact that the Dodgers got away with it just goes to show you, baseball is quite the entertaining game.

    Let's put aside for the moment this pitching-rich team getting caught with its pants down when, after Hideo Nomo's Friday start was cut short by rain and Kazuhisa Ishii went on the disabled list Saturday, it did not have one of its better pitching prospects ready to make the emergency start.

    The Dodgers bring up Mullen, a castoff (acquired in exchange for the Castoff Prom King, Gookie Dawkins) from the pitching-poor Kansas City Royals. He has an ERA of over 16, and they decide to start him against the offensive onslaught that is the Atlanta Braves.

    The very real possibility, which Mullen nearly fulfilled, was that he wouldn't make it past the first inning. If that had happened, the Dodgers would have been ripping through its bullpen in a blowout loss, redefining the word "demoralizing." By the end of the game, it would have been even money on Jolbert Cabrera finishing the game on the mound.

    Why wouldn't you start Guillermo Mota - or any of the Dodgers' talented relievers, for that matter - and see how far you get with the best? With five relievers, including a rested Eric Gagne, the Dodgers should have been able to go most (if not all) of the game - picking the best spot for Mullen to enter if necessary. If the Dodgers fell behind, only then it would make sense to bring in Mullen, by definition the worst pitcher on the team.

    What I'd explore if I had more time: Whether Mullen posed any particular matchup problems for the Braves that I'm not aware of.

  • Dan Evans defends himself to the Times.

    What I can say quickly: If only people were more thoughtful.

    On Sunday, T.J. Simers unleashed his most intense criticism of the Dodger general manager to date. If Simers were more interested more than just getting a reaction, he might have made a convincing argument. Instead, he cited every bad move made by Evans without giving him any credit for the good ones - Hideo Nomo, Paul Quantrill just for starters. Simers really was made for talk radio.

    Today, Evans responded in an interview with Jason Reid of the Times that laid out the all-too-true limitations he's been faced with. Unfortunately, moves like acquiring over-the-hill (and through-the-woods) Robin Ventura for the leadership he brings to the clubhouse - on a team with more old-school ballplayers than ESPN Classic can show in a day - undermines the faith one might have in Evans. Dan, think about it - it doesn't help a talent-deficient team to bring in even one talent-deficient player.

    What I'd explore if I had more time: More analysis of Evans' performance, along the lines of this entry.

  • Escaping the Wrath
    2003-08-01 08:38
    by Jon Weisman

    You don't see many fingers pointed Dave Roberts' way, perhaps because only an alien would have enough fingers to point for the Dodgers' miserable condition today.

    His leg injuries have been the excuse, and to an extent that's fair. But last I heard, the upper body had at least a little bit to do with one's batting ability.

    On May 1, Roberts was batting .315, with an on-base percentage of .390, slugging of .416, and OPS of .806.

    Since then, Roberts has gone 30 for 144 with two doubles, no triples and no home runs. His averages in that time: batting .208, on-base .278, slugging .222, That gives him an OPS of an even .500.

    Right now, Cesar Izturis is a better hitter than Roberts.

    The First Name in Trade Coverage
    2003-08-01 08:24
    by Jon Weisman

    The Times wins the Robin Ventura Trade Headline Contest with "They Need Bat Man, Get Robin".

    I'm giving the Times the edge in an interestingly close race with the Register, which left too much doubt in its headline, "Can Robin Be Batman?"

    If you think the Dodgers did well with the Ventura trade, write me.

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    About Jon
    Thank You For Not ...

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