Monthly archives: July 2004
Open Chat: Dodgers-Padres (Saturday)
The Sweetness Question
The trade of Paul Lo Duca raises some fundamental questions.
Would you rather try to win with a true-blue Dodger, even if your chances of winning might be less than if you acquire outsiders?
Hypothetically, would you rather lose in the playoffs with Paul Lo Duca or win without him?
Will a pennant or World Series title be as sweet without Lo Duca?
What exactly does it mean to lose your team's heart and soul? Will it make Adrian Beltre play worse? Or Eric Gagne? Or Cesar Izturis?
* * *
I miss Paul Lo Duca already. For me, a title without him won't be as sweet as a title with him. I can picture him drowning his Dodger uniform in champagne and it saddens me that that won't happen.
But my feeling is that right now, Paul DePodesta has made the champagne more likely to come. Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi for Guillermo Mota and Paul Lo Duca is a good trade. But it's up to each person, based on the questions above - and, of course, an evaluation of the numbers, simple and complex - to decide whether it was worth it.
Or, we can just wait and see. There's always that.
* * *
I might just stop here, though. I think I might just rather keep Penny, Jayson Werth and Edwin Jackson then trade them for Randy Johnson and Steve Finley. Johnson is added value but at a huge cost. Finley may not be added value at all.
And as for Charles Johnson - I want to think there's a better solution at catcher than him.
As of this morning:
Or something like that.
Advice to Local Media and Talk-Show Callers
Talk about Paul Lo Duca as the Dodgers' heart and soul all you want. Really. It'd be reprehensible to ignore it.
But "heart and soul" can't be the only words that cross your lips, any more than "Heart and Soul" should be the only song you can play on the piano. Tonight, I listened on the radio to broadcasters and callers, one after another, talk at length about the trade without mentioning a single statistic from any of the players the Dodgers received in exchange - not even a negative one that would support their anger over the trade. They couldn't be bothered.
"I just can't understand it," they wailed. Well, maybe if they took five minutes to do some research, they might find an explanation. It doesn't diminish one's love for Paul Lo Duca to look for answers.
If you consider both sides and decide the Dodgers have made a mistake, then we'll all be grateful to hear your arguments. But if your summary of today's trade is Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion for lint, you are doing the Los Angeles sports community a serious disservice.
Open Chat: Padres-Dodgers (Friday)
Almost forgot there was a game tonight, didn't you?
If I were the one that were pregnant, this afternoon might have induced labor.
Penny, Randy, Finley, Charlie, and Hee See
This isn't a final analysis: just some information for you and I to have at hand. For those who want to continue chatting, I suggest continuing on the ongoing comment thread here.
Brad Penny has an ERA is 3.15, with 105 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings against 39 walks and 124 hits. According to Baseball Prospectus, he has been the 11th-best pitcher in the National League with a VORP of 33.8. He is 26 years old and is owed the remainder of his $3.75-million contract for 2004.
Randy Johnson has an ERA of 2.68, with 174 strikeouts in 151 1/3 innings against 30 walks and 105 hits. His VORP is fifth in the league at 42.0. He turns 41 in November and is owed the remainder of the $32 million he is due for 2004-05.
Steve Finley has an EQA of .272 this season and a VORP of 23.6. He is on-basing .337, slugging .493 and OPSing .830. He is 39 years and is owed the remainder of his $6.75 million contract for 2004.
Charles Johnson has has an EQA of .271 and a VORP of 15.8. He is on-basing .363, slugging .475 and OPSing .838 - with a surprisingly slim Coors Field/road differential. He turned 33 this month and is owed the remainder of his $9 million 2004 salary plus his $9 million 2005 salary.
Hee Seop Choi has an EQA of .306 and a VORP of 27.7. He is on-basing .388, slugging .495 and OPSing .892. He is 25 years old and is earning $310,000 this season.
No Rumors - Just Some Lo Duca Thoughts
A Dodger trade? Nobody knows. Or maybe somebody knows, but nobody knows which somebody knows.
So no, I won't be talking about any trade rumors. But I will talk about Paul Lo Duca.
Beginning dispassionately ....
Top 2004 Catchers
Without needing to resort to intangibles like grit and team chemistry, Lo Duca is a valuable catcher, and the obvious question is where would the Dodgers find a replacement for him, were they to trade him away.
The less obvious question is: How important is this valuable catcher to the Dodgers? Is Lo Duca Park Place or Baltic Avenue?
Top 2004 Dodgers
Lo Duca has been one of the five most valuable Dodgers this season. His shoes would be arguably harder to fill than Eric Gagne's. The difference between Gagne and an average reliever is greater than the difference between Lo Duca and an average catcher, but because of the vast difference in playing time, Lo Duca still has had more positive statistical impact on the team than Gagne has.
And yet, there are reasons one might consider trading Lo Duca.
1) A belief that his production will tail off in the season's final two months. Since 2001, Lo Duca's OPS in August and September is .652, compared to an April-July average in that time of .841.
2) A belief that at age 32, this is Lo Duca's last hurrah as a catcher. He is at the age where catchers often have to move to other positions - and at another position, Lo Duca's value would drop considerably.
3) A belief that an adequate or superior replacement exists, either at catcher or another position.
A belief, in other words, that Lo Duca is at his peak, that it is all downhill from here, and that another player could better serve the Dodgers from August 1 on.
Would the Dodgers be better off, for example, to exchange Lo Duca for a starting pitcher who is performing well? Let's look at the current Dodger starters.
2004 Dodger Starting Pitchers
By comparison, Florida starting pitcher Carl Pavano, as a hypothetical, has 11 win shares this season and five WSAA - equivalent to, if not better than, Lo Duca's numbers.
Adding Pavano to the Dodger rotation in place of Alvarez, Lima or Ishii (Weaver being entrenched) would give the Dodgers a pitcher heading into the final two months with a resume of six more win shares and four more WSAA this season. Pro-rated over the final third of the season, that would mean three win shares and two WSAA.
There is not very much of a margin there. Would that compensate for the Dodgers' dropoff at catcher? Would the drop between Lo Duca and his replacement be less than the gain from Pavano? Perhaps, if Lo Duca is facing his annual decline over the final two months. Perhaps not, if this is the year Lo Duca maintains his averages.
If the Dodgers are going to trade Paul Lo Duca, there probably is not a better time to do it than this week. But in trading Lo Duca, you risk missing out on the conclusion to a very valuable season. There are unequivocally players worth trading Lo Duca for, but the improvement should be clear-cut, not speculative.
In the end, I just want to say that Paul Lo Duca has been one of the most important Dodgers this season, and I have ignored giving him that credit for too long.
Update: If it's rumor analysis you want after all, you won't do any better this morning than John's Dodger Blog.
The last time the Dodgers lost two in a row, they lost six in a row. They've actually only had one other two-game losing streak all season.
Dodger 2004 Losing Streaks
In this humpty-dumpty season, the Dodgers started 22-10, then went 15-25, then 21-5 to get to 58-40 two days ago.
The lineup for today's 12 p.m. game offers Jayson Werth batting third, Juan Encarnacion seventh and Dave Ross eighth.
Since coming off the disabled list July 19, Encarnacion has appeared in every game, going 8 for 38 with two doubles, a home run, two walks, an HBP, a .268 on-base percentage and a .342 slugging percentage. In that time, Jayson Werth has gone 3 for 23 with no extra-base hits and four walks, while Dave Roberts has all of 11 plate appearances: three walks and eight outs. All together, the three are 11 for 69: .159 batting average, .266 on-base percentage, .231 slugging percentage, .497 OPS.
Roberts has had a miserable July at the plate - 9 for 60, six walks, no extra-base hits. He is 10 for 10 on stolen bases, however. Stolen bases aren't worth as much as home runs, but Encarnacion has only one homer in the month.
Saenz, 7 for 17 with two walks in May, is 8 for 44 with six walks since.
Todd Hundley, 2 for 18 against Fassero, is not in the lineup.
In a change of pace, I'm going to praise Frank McCourt for his commitment to the Dodgers, which would explain why McCourt is nearly three months behind in payments on a $22 million loan financing part of his Boston landholdings - putting him in default.
Just another chapter in McCourt's financial juggling act. He does what he does. Maybe I'm growing resigned to it - for now. Or maybe I'm just wary of flying toasters.
Thanks to SportsbyBrooks for pointing out the Boston Globe report.
The Playoff Seat Cushion
I've added a little reference tool on the sidebar: The Playoff Seat Cushion. This tells you how much of a cushion the Dodgers have in the standings before they would miss the 2004 playoffs entirely.
For example, as of this morning, we have:
NL West leader: Los Angeles (58-41)
The Playoff Seat Cushion is the number of games it would take for the Dodgers to fall behind both the NL West Runner-Up and the NL Wild Card Runner-Up. By coincidence, there is a virtual tie for the wild-card lead today, so the cushion is 3 1/2 games.
For The Playoff Seat Cushion, I am counting a playoff tiebreaker as a playoff game. Losing 3 1/2 games in the standings would not necessarily keep the Dodgers out of the playoffs, but 4 games would.
Should the Dodgers fall behind, The Playoff Seat Cushion will be renamed The Deflated Playoff Seat Cushion.
Funny that I just finished an entry on ex-Dodgers an hour before getting this news. On the other hand, perhaps not so funny that a Dodger born the same month as I may have reached the end of the line - no matter the mixed feelings I grew to have for him.
In any event, Eric Karros has been designated for assignment by Oakland after OPSing .554 in 40 games. The news comes 4 1/2 months after Karros and Ross Newhan of the Times aggressively wondered why the Dodgers did not pursue him to play first base for them this season.
Karros was briefly a hero of mine, for the way he perservered through the Dodger system and became a bright spot in a miserable 1992 season. And he seemed to have been good to the reporters that covered the team.
But ultimately, he became one of my least favorite Dodgers. His stiff and morose body language on the field would make you think Shawn Green was Max Patkin. He became the epitome of the 30-homers-and-nothing-else hitter. And the incident in which he called out a young Ismael Valdez (then Valdes) and questioned his commitment to winning instigated one of the ugliest clubhouse dramas in post-'88 Dodger history, with people taking sides, in my recollection, along racial lines.
Eric Karros as the all-time Los Angeles home run leader? I want to ask for a recount.
And yet ... if it were possible to simultaneously initiate and limit such things, I wouldn't mind seeing the Dodgers sign Karros to a one-day contract at the end of the season, so that he would take his final at-bat as a Dodger. Eric Karros is probably a good guy, and it'd be nice to see him get the chance to tip his hat in uniform one final time to the Dodger crowd.
Clarification (July 28): Writing "... with people taking sides, in my recollection, along racial lines" was misleading, if not inaccurate.
In the aftermath of the Karros-Valdez conflict, the Times ran stories that defended Karros' actions, using quotes from Karros and several people in the Dodger organization. Not one of those quoted was Valdez, nor any Spanish-speaking member of the club. This might not have been malicious, but it was blatant. Public opinion was shaped without Valdez's side of the story coming close to being told.
Perhaps Valdez was wholly to blame for the incident. But I doubt it.
However, if I implied that Karros instigated a racial conflict, I apologize. What I was trying to express was my firm belief that the native language of the participants played an integral role in how this incident was percieved, and ultimately the ability for Valdez to pitch successfully in Los Angeles. It also somehow cemented this idea of Karros as a clubhouse leader.
I recall a play where Chan Ho Park fielded a ball and made a wild throw to first. Karros made no attempt to catch it and no attempt to chase it down. He seemed more concerned with emphasizing that the throw was off-target than minimizing the damage. That does make Karros worthless, any more than 30 home runs are worthless. But until the end, Karros always seemed to get the benefit of the doubt in this town, always seemed to have people covering for him, yet rarely seemed to return the favor. He really seemed, more than many, to lack the ability to be honest about his own flaws.
As the comments below help indicate, Karros' career is one of the most difficult to evaluate in Dodger history. And to show that I have ability to be honest about my own flaws, it's undeniably weak that I don't do more actual reporting to collect the information that would allow us to better evaluate him.
It has been 40 days since Odalis Perez's last win and 66 since his last loss. Heading into tonight, Perez has four straight no-decisions and 11 in 18 starts.
Odalis Perez's No-Decisions, 2004
For the year, Perez has allowed four earned runs in two starts (both in April), three or less in every other.
Guess it was a good thing Chin-Feng Chen didn't turn out to be indispensable. There might have been an interesting international tug o'war for his services. Instead, Chen was free to leave the continent this week to play for Taiwan in the Olympics. ...
It hasn't been Jason Romano's year. The former 25th man tore his hamstring playing for Cincinnati and is out for the season, after a 5-for-34, .430 OPS campaign. ...
In 7 2/3 innings this month, Giants closer Matt Herges has allowed 18 hits and four walks. His ERA is 10.57. For the year, opponents are batting .342 against Herges with an OPS of .904. ...
Orel Hershiser got lauded locally twice today for turning around the Texas Ranger pitching staff, in columns by Kevin Modesti of the Daily News and Steve Bisheff of the Register. In a way, I'm disappointed. Hershiser worked briefly as an ESPN commentator after retiring and I thought he displayed natural ability that many active broadcasters lack.
Kazuhisa Ishii's ERA at Colorado:
2002: 4.50 (six innings, three runs, eight hits, three walks, six strikeouts)
* includes five unearned runs
Small sample size or not, 40 baserunners in 18 innings is a bunch.
As my wife and I came out of the Top of the Park gift shop Saturday with my belated Father's Day present, Paul Lo Duca was reaching base on an infield single, loading the sacks for Adrian Beltre. So we stood behind the back row of the highest seat in Dodger Stadium and watched.
The ball soared, piercing the night, so high that I felt like I was looking straight at it.
I tried to start an MVP chant - because that's what Beltre would be, at least if this weren't a world with Barry Bonds' statistics.
Scott Rolen of the St. Louis Cardinals has been the designated Bonds alternative candidate for MVP most of the season. Not that he has Bonds' numbers, but he plays a more valuable position more valuably. Great third baseman, great numbers, leading a team to the best record in baseball.
But Beltre's continued surge, carrying the Dodgers with his Gibson-like gait, has to vault him into a place rivaling Rolen.
Beltre's OPS almost crossed the 1.000 threshold Saturday. He was at .997 when he reached base on an error and now sits at .985. His on-base percentage has skied to .371 and his slugging percentage is .614 - which would put him seventh all-time in Brooklyn/Los Angeles history.
For an advanced evaluation, here are the National League leaders in Value over Replacement Player, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.
81.7 Barry Bonds
Beltre is miles from No. 1 and yards even from No. 2. On the other hand, so is Rolen. So while Beltre may not be this year's NL MVP, with just over two months to go in the season, he deserves to be in the conversation as much as anyone else who isn't Bonds.
Back For Now
Nope - no new son yet. Just faulty wiring. So there will be another absence upcoming - but for better reasons, I hope.
Can anyone recommend someone to rewire two phone jacks? I tried to do it myself and - big surprise - it didn't go well. Verizon wants to charge an arm, a leg, a foot, etc.
The Outside Views Project
From: Jon Weisman
A small but desired request:
Write something about the 2004 Dodgers.
It can be one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, whatever. It can be analytical, funny, effusive, hateful (to an extent), sarcastic, or of course, the ever-popular lucid.
I just want to collect some outside perspectives on the 2004 team. I make no bones about picking their hottest moment to do it. You don't have to buy into the streak at all if you don't want to - say whatever comes to mind about them.
Replies (in order of appearance)
Tyler Bleszinski, Athletics Nation: To summarize how I feel about the Dodgers is simple...common enemies and a shared ideology. The Dodgers and A's are on the same side in the Great Idea War raging in baseball between the old school small ballers and the new school Moneyballers. They, along with the Red Sox and Blue Jays, have formed an alliance in this war. Not to mention that Dodger fans hate Giants and Angels fans.
You also have our beloved Paul DePodesta running your team, Athletics Nation friend Jason Grabowski and Athletics fan fave Olmedo Saenz coming off the bench. No wonder blue and green are so closely related. Any chance we can trade bullpens??
Studes, The Hardball Times:
I think this graph shows that, as opposed to last year, this year's Dodgers have been a very balanced blend of offense and defense. Even their ups and downs during the year have been driven by their ups and downs in runs scored and allowed. When the Dodgers win, both the pitching and hitting do well. And when they lose, they both share equally in the blame.
The Dodgers had a couple of winning streaks last year, including a ten-gamer and nine-gamer, but they were entirely due to great pitching. To move to such great balance this year, without major contributions from either Green or Encarnacion, is a real surprise to me.
So my question is, with a record-setting reliever on hand, are Dodger fans now staying until the ninth inning?
BTW, Beltre has already matched his Win Share total from last year.
Larry Mahnken, Replacement Level Yankees Weblog/The Hardball Times: When they write the book on the 2004 Dodgers, there will be many words in it. Someone will probably purchase a copy, and someone will spill their drink while reading it, and the pages will stick together. And they'll debate whether or not to buy another copy, but will decide against it when they are able to pull the pages apart without too much damage.
The Score Bard, The Humbug Journal:
David Pinto, Baseball Musings: There was a lot of gloom and doom at the beginning of the season over the sale of the Dodgers. They had not been able to compete in the free agent market. The new owners had taken on a lot of debt (which may hurt the franchise in the future). The Angels were trying to make inroads with Dodgers fans. The Dodgers, in fact, are quite a pleasant surprise.
Alex Belth, Bronx Banter: It's hard for me to know what to make of the Dodgers. Truthfully, the only time I've really paid attention to them was when the Yankees were in town. But it seems to me that, like the NL East, anything is possible. Why the Dodgers (or Padres or Giants, for that matter)? Well, why not?
I think Jeff Weaver looks great in L.A.'s home uniform, and I did catch the highlights of his brief run-in with the Giants a while back which was amusing. One bit that turned me off about the Dodgers this year is the "Game Over" display on the scoreboard when Gagne enters the game. Coming from a Yankee fan, who is inundated with pomposity and self-aggrandizement, it still seemed more than somewhat presumptuous. Which is not to discount Gagne's dominance. He's been stunningly good. But that "Game Over" stunt is bad karma, man.
To be honest, I've got more questions about the Dodgers than I have answers. I don't mean that I don't believe in them, I mean that I just don't know about them. How has Bradley been since his explosion? How is Jim Tracy getting on with DePodesta? Etc, etc.
Peter White, Mariner Musings: Still not outscoring Detroit.
Jay Jaffe, The Futility Infielder: Last week I decided to check in on the Dodgers on MLB.tv for the first time in a few weeks. It was the inning where Green hit the grand slam, the kind of thing that makes you believe that just maybe they can win something. Of course, with Jim Tracy, I always think they can find a way to be in it. Smoke, mirrors, duct tape around Adrian Beltre's ankle and the arms of the starting rotation, perhaps some voodoo dolls - one of these days Tracy's skill at getting the most out of this motley collection will pay off, and the Dodgers will return to their rightful place atop the NL West. I'm beginning to think that this is the year.
Mark McClusky, Baysball: While their eight game winning streak has pushed them to a 2.5 game lead in the West, the rest of the division is lucky that it's not much more. While the Dodgers are nearly four games better than their runs for and against would lead you to expect, the Giants are six games above their projections, as are the Padres.
This whole division is playing over its head right now, and it's due for a fall. But they're all going to fall together, and I'd expect the Dodgers to fall the least, unless Adrian Beltre can't keep gimping it out there on his ankle.
If you put a gun to my head, I'd pick the Dodgers to win this division. I was going to say that I would expect the NL West winner to get bounced in the first round, but the NL is a weird league this year. Beyond St. Louis, no one is playing great baseball, and that might make this year's playoffs more of a crapshoot than usual.
Steve Treder, The Hardball Times: To a Giants fan, the 2004 Dodgers are the undead. They've been clubbed, slashed, shot, burned, and buried six feet underground, only to be found up and around yet again, greedily consuming wins, stalking first place with a glazed-eyed mindlessness that maddens us all the more.
DIE, Cesar Izturis! DIE, Shawn Green! DIE, Alex Freaking Cora! But death seems to hardly slow their monstrous trudge.
Apparently nothing short of a stake through the heart at the stroke of midnight, at home plate at Chavez Ravine, will suffice.
Brian Gunn, Redbird Nation: This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I don't have a strong opinion about the Dodgers, even though I live in the town where they play. I mean, the L.A. Dodgers have never been a team that enflames people's passions -- they're not like the Yankees or Cowboys or Lakers, where EVERYONE has an opinion about them. Instead, they come across like a group of good upstanding guys wearing good upstanding starched shirts. And this year's Dodgers are no different. I mean, sure, you've got the psychodramatics of Milton Bradley, and the fearsome charm of Four-Eyes Gagne, but my attitude about the 2004 Dodgers is the same as it's always been - I like 'em. I wish 'em well. But I doubt they'll move me until they win a game or two in October.
Thanks for inviting me to share some words, and I wish I could be more of a booster for the ballclub. The Dodgers are probably my second favorite team in baseball, but I wish they gave me more to sink my teeth into.
TwinsFanDan, Will Carroll Weblog: I don't have much to say because I frankly don't follow the Dodgers much, but are they peaking too early? Especially for only +2.5 games on July 21 after a 15-2 streak. The schedule looks relatively favorable, though, as the only road non-divisional series games are at CHC, as opposed to PHIL, ATL, FLA at home. (These teams deemed to be Wild Card or Divisional contending teams by TFD. STL cancels out, with three home and three away.)
Mike Carminati, Mike's Baseball Rants: The Dodgers' 2004 season as a Leelee Sobieski poem:
Best hitter. Shawn Green. Moved to first. Can't hit.
Hideo Nomo. No less.
Hideous. No mo'.
Milton Bradley—not a game. Plays a game.
Beltre. Lazarus. Resurrects career. Two more homers, 260 points in OPS.
Oh. Dallas. Perez. ERA. Run and half less.
Odd team. Odd year.
Strike. No playoffs. Best, not best.
Padres. Giants. Within three games.
Open Chat: Rockies-Dodgers (Wednesday)
Two Years - Thank You
It began July 21, 2002.
Each passing day, Dodger Thoughts has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. Thanks so much for reading and writing.
For 5 p.m. games during the work week, it goes a little something like this:
Today, it was Houston 4, Los Angeles 1 when I got home. It was Houston 4, Los Angeles 1 when I did my scorecheck.
It was Los Angeles 6, Houston 4 after singing lullabies.
And my jaw dropped. It literally, literally dropped.
I have the ability to enjoy these moments. I know they end. But I can be made to feel good by them. It's my reward for the inevitable suffering.
They came back. Again.
Just When They Least Expect It ...
Two game-winning home runs for Shawn Green on one road trip? More than most will do in a career.
Here are my theories. Perhaps, now that teams are recognizing Adrian Beltre as the focal point of the Dodger offense and are pitching more carefully to him - eight walks against 34 at-bats in July - Green has been earning less respect and in turn getting better pitches to hit. It's like a crop rotation thing. Additionally, perhaps Green is feeling less pressure to produce having been removed from the cleanup spot. (Note that some press coverage today focused more on Milton Bradley than on Green.)
In any case, I feel pretty good about having recommended the Dodgers drop Green in the batting order, without benching him. (Does it seem like I keep patting myself on the back? I have admitted some mistakes recently as well.) He is no longer the team's best hitter, he does not justify his salary, but the costs are not completely sunk - he does belong in the lineup. He can contribute. He's also probably the Dodgers' best defensive first baseman, other than Robin Ventura.
I'm more curious about whether Bradley's recent upswing at the plate is for real. (Although on the bases, anecdotally, I can't recall a player getting picked off more often than Bradley.)
* * *
From Jeff Elliott of the Florida Times-Union comes news that shortstop Joel Guzman and pitcher Chad Billingsley have been promoted from Class A Vero Beach to Class AA Jacksonville.
* * *
Monday, the Dodgers made fielding, baserunning and pitching mistakes, and still won. Scary.
Of course, I don't want to see the Dodgers bench Jayson Werth. I say this for unselfish reasons - because the team has been winning with him in the lineup. And I say this for selfish reasons - he, along with Adrian Beltre, are the two players that I diagnosed high hopes for early in the season, that I felt were legit beyond their hot starts.
Werth has been a revelation. Talk all you want about how minor a trade this seemed in March and how unproven he is, but I think anyone would take this production, even if it's only for 92 plate appearances: 1.076 OPS overall, 1.089 vs. lefties, 1.058 vs. righties, 1.047 at home, 1.106 on the road. Even a healthy dropoff will leave Werth, who is within six weeks of sharing a birthday with Beltre, at better than average.
Juan Encarnacion had a pretty great month of June himself - .905 OPS. But that's not as good as Werth, and Encarnacion is a candidate for a dropoff as well. Like Shawn Green, Encarnacion has labrum issues. Eleven days ago, Will Carroll wrote:
The MRI on Juan Encarnacion showed that he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum and an impingement in his left shoulder. Now, the question is when he'll have that surgery. Encarnacion will play through the pain, hoping to stay productive and have the shoulder fixed in the off-season. With the Dodgers in contention but short on power, this is a tough decision for the team. Watch how he's used and if his power numbers suffer.
If it requires Encarnacion - who probably is beside himself to have missed out on the Arizona pitching the past weekend - to return to the lineup with a subpar performance for Jim Tracy to navigate the psychologically tricky "you don't lose your job through injury" Wally Pipp waters, so be it.
The risk is that Werth could fall out of his groove. But right now, there are four lineup spots for Werth, Encarnacion, Green, Dave Roberts, Milton Bradley and even Jason Grabowski. Given the health concerns about the middle four of this group, there may be plenty of playing time to go around.
The days remain precious - make no mistake. It's now the Giants' turn to pick at Arizona's carcass, while the Dodgers travel to Houston to face a team that still has a fighting chance. Let's put it this way - I'd be loath to take Werth, the Dodgers' top hitter in July, out of the lineup at all, but I'm going to be tolerant in the short term.
Maybe I'm feeling more forgiving because of how angry I was at Tracy when he sent Robin Ventura up to pinch-hit for Roberts on Friday. That the move worked heroically doesn't make it right, but it does perhaps earn Tracy - riding the thin line between candidate for termination or Manager of the Year - even more faith with regards to how he works the entire 25-man roster. Remember, he's the manager who's had faith in Werth and Roberts to begin with.
* * *
From Baseball Prospectus: Value Over Replacement Level: The Odalis Perez Trade
Odalis Perez VORP with Dodgers
Brian Jordan VORP with Dodgers
Gary Sheffield VORP with Braves:
Dodger Total: 126.5 (to date)
The totals don't include the fractional share of Milton Bradley that can be attributed to Andrew Brown, who came to Los Angeles with Perez and went to Cleveland for Bradley as a player to be named later.
* * *
Thursday, I made the following comment about Joe Thurston: "His fall from his 2002 season will go in the textbook of Dodger prospect disappointments. It seems like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy."
At least one reader read this statement in the sarcastic tone it is often used, but which I did not intend. I meant it sincerely; Joe seems like a truly nice guy. I apologize for any misunderstanding.
* * *
Chin-Feng Chen has now appeared in 10 major league games and spent countless days on the roster without a hit. Nuts.
A Topsy-Turvy Second-Half Opener
With three more All-Star Break days off, Adrian Beltre and Milton Bradley can't make the start.
A revving-up Jayson Werth is called out for leaving third base too early on a sacrifice fly against Randy Johnson.
With the Dodgers down, 3-0, a gimpy Beltre is walked semi-intentionally so that Shawn Green can come up with the bases loaded, showing that opponents have decided whom to fear.
Green, down in the count 1-2, hits a towering, lead-changing grand slam.
The last eight Arizona outs come on strikeouts by the Dodger bullpen, with Vin Scully calling it "the dardnest thing he had ever seen" in pitching, Sandy Koufax presumbably aside.
And this: Following Green's grand slam, which gave the Dodgers a lead important to preserve for psychological as well as pennantal reasons, Guillermo Mota did not appear in an obvious Guillermo Mota situation.
Speculation unanswered by the morning papers: Did Mota need rest for health reasons? Was Dreifort being given a confidence boost? Does this signal that Dreifort is being groomed to replace Mota because of an imminent trade (though none was completed Thursday)? Or is it, as Eric Enders suggested in the comments, a disciplinary matter, or simply mundane visa problems?
* * *
"General manager J.P. Ricciardi may want to deal Delgado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Shawn Green or this year's version of Luke Prokopec, whomever that might be," Elliot wrote.
The Dodgers have won 9 out of 10 games, and Randy Johnson is in their rear-view mirror, perhaps forever.
The View From Vero Beach
Following Thursday's look at the top three tiers of the Dodger minor league system, here is an interview with Trevor Gooby, the 28-year-old general manager (yes, Paul DePodesta is an old man to him) of the Class A Vero Beach Dodgers.
How long have you held this position? This is my second season as the GM, but I have been with the Dodgers since 1998.
What was your career track to get to this point? I am a graduate of Emerson College in Boston. My college has a program in L.A. for internships during your second semester of your senior year. I went to L.A. to work for the Dodgers in PR. Derrick Hall was the director at the time. After the 1998 season, which was a very learning season for an intern in the PR office, Derrick told me of a program that the Dodgers had in Vero Beach. It was an internship program that the team had which many baseball executives had gone through to learn the overall baseball operations side of things. Derrick began there, as well as Peter O’Malley’s son, Kevin. I was up for learning about the business, so I took the job with hopes of returning to L.A. after the 1999 season. I moved to Vero Beach and became very involved with the minor league side of things. I enjoyed the work and watching the developing of players (plus I love living in a small town), so I moved up the ladder here. I am able to keep in touch with L.A. for we are L.A. employees and also get to work with minor league guys on a daily basis. I became GM here after the 2002 season after working as the assistant GM.
About the team
I have had the privilege of watching Reggie since he was first signed and he has come a long way. What people don’t see by reading box scores is how hard he works. Last year for instance, he would take BP with our Extended Spring Training team, work all morning on pitch recognition and then play in the VBD game at night. He is always trying to learn more and trying to develop into a complete player. There are times watching him when your jaw just drops. One time in 2001, he hit a three-run home run, stole third, made a diving catch in the outfield, and threw a player out at home. It was like, what can’t this guy do? He is a team leader for us and an all-around good kid. If he keeps working hard, then sky's the limit for him.
Joel Guzman made his national TV debut, so to speak, with his Futures Game appearance. Astonishing how tall he is for a shortstop. Is he still growing? What are his strengths and weaknesses, and do you think he will still be a shortstop as he reaches the majors? I have also gotten the chance to see Joel (pronounced Jo-el) since he first came to Vero Beach during the 2001 season. We watched his first BP and I was impressed at the size and intelligence of a kid that was only 16. He has really matured on and off the field and is still growing. He began the season with us and struggled, but since May has arguably been the best hitter in the FSL. We all knew he could hit and for power, but what has impressed me is his play in the field. He has made some unreal plays in the field and has shown great arm strength.
As for being a shortstop in the majors, that’s up to our field staff, but for the time being he has been impressive. Joel is also the type of guy that is great off the field; he has helped us numerous times with community events and has been great with the fans. Lots of things that I believe don’t show up in a scouting report.
Talk about some of the bigger-name prospects - strengths and weaknesses - like Delwyn Young, Chad Billingsley, Jonathon Broxton, Andy La Roche. Who's beating or meeting expectations? Who's behind where you thought they'd be? We started the season in April and fell behind quick; we fought back thanks to great pitching from our starters and a great bullpen. Billingsley, Broxton, (Mike) Megrew and (Jarod) Plummer have been unhittable at times. It’s tough to find four better pitchers in the league.
Then look at our bullpen. Steve Schmoll and Jose Diaz are lights out. Diaz has been clocked in the mid to upper 90s and Schmoll, a sidearm pitcher, has a ball that moves all over the place. He currently has a 1.98 ERA and doesn’t get enough attention. He only gave up 1 earned run in the month of May.
The second half of the season, we have been dominant. Our lineup top to bottom is tough. With Reggie and Guz we are good, but add in LaRoche, Delwyn Young, Russell Martin and Jesse Hoorelbeke, and we can score some runs. DY has gotten better defensively at second base after working with our minor league rovers, John Shoemaker and Jerry Royster. Martin is one of the top defensive catchers in the league and leads the league is runners caught stealing. The team is looking very strong to contend for the second-half title.
Who else should we know about that's making an impression? Mike Megrew has been pretty impressive and should jump on the radar any minute now. Our pitching coach, Kenny Howell, has turned many guys into pure prospects. His track record speaks for itself - 2002 (Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Brown), 2003 (Greg Miller, Brian Pilkington, Jason Frasor) and now 2004 with Billingsley, Broxton and Megrew. Another guy that has turned it on is Brian Sprout; he is a former independent guy, signed by Maury Wills. He has really developed into a clutch hitter and a guy that can play anywhere you stick him. He plays hard and has showed some power. I also really like Casey Hoorelbeke. He is a 6-9 righty power pitcher that can move the ball around and do some things on the hill.
At what positions does Vero Beach show the most depth? Our pitching rotation is as solid as I have seen.
What have been the in-game highlights of the year so far? Most memorable moments? The most memorable moment this season has been watching Guzman in the field. He has made some plays that he never made before. Throws from the ground and in the hole that looked impossible. His bat has been just as memorable.
My most memorable moment at Dodgertown, however, was in 2001, when Edwin Jackson first took the mound. He was drafted as an outfielder, and we were trying him out as a pitcher. He took the hill and his first pitch went about 56 feet. His next 11 pitches were all balls as well. I was scoring the game and thought to myself that he should go back to the outfield. That’s why I don’t get paid to scout. That 2001 GCL team was unreal. We had Jackson, Victor Diaz, Joselo Diaz, Kole Strayhorn, Travis Ezi and Franklin Gutierrez. All those guys could end up playing in the majors. (Editor's note: The Diazes and Strayhorn went to the Mets for Jeromy Burnitz; Ezi went to the Marlins for Juan Encarnacion.)
Any other highlights from your other areas of supervision - Gulf Coast League, etc. - that it'd be good to know about? The Gulf Coast team has been playing well. The team has had some growing pains, but has improved. Jamie Hoffman, Juan Rivera and James Peterson have played very well for the team. Also, our rehab players are getting healthy. (Masao) Kida and Alfredo Gonzalez have pitched in some GCL games and looked good. Our rehab coordinator, Jason Steere, has done an outstanding job getting guys healthy.
Dodger Minor League Report
I'm not a scout, nor do I play one on TV. Of the players listed below, I've seen none in person and only a few on television.
But out of curiosity regarding the depth in the Dodger farm system, I decided to research the top three minor league teams in the organization – Class AAA Las Vegas, Class AA Jacksonville and Class A Vero Beach – and rank the players by position. (Note that I didn't look at players from Class A Columbus - not to be confused with the Yankees' AAA Columbus farm team – unless they have since been promoted.)
Next to the players, you'll find statistics. For the pitchers, they're evident enough; for the hitters, what you'll see is batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and - followed by a dash - Minor League Equivalent Average. The latter is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that takes league and park factors into account and translates a player's statistics into a single number, with .260 being the equivalent of an average major league hitter. Not surprisingly, none of the hitters in the Dodger minor leagues are that high (although Jayson Werth was at .324 before his callup). But MLEQA is helpful in comparing batters across different levels.
I've also rated the Dodgers' level of depth at each position. The scake is 1 to 10 – with subjectivity at about 9. You'll see the mediocrity at most offensive slots, although there's some surprising depth in the shortstops, some of whom could move to other positions. And you'll see some tremendous depth in the pitching, despite Greg Miller's injury. While there isn't much lefty relief in the Dodger minor leagues, in an emergency, one of the starters could probably pitch as well as Tom Martin.
Please be sure to come back Friday for an interview with Trevor Gooby, general manager of the Vero Beach Dodgers.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Diamondbacks (Thursday)
Jeff Weaver vs. Randy Johnson. Is tonight's game a World Series preview?
The odds are against it. However, is there any National League team likely to acquire Johnson? I tend to doubt it, but these things can surprise you.
I do note that the Lakers need a center.
Jesse James and Jack Clark
Not all coaches get recycled in the same way. Ex-Dodger hitting coach Jack Clark, whose credentials, for better or worse, I questioned aggressively in 2003 (more than once), has been head of baseball operations of the Mid-Missouri Mavericks of Columbia, Missouri in the independent Frontier League since June 21. Clark had been managing the team, but was promoted upstairs from the managerial slot and replaced by fellow former major league star Jim Gentile.
It's been a homecoming for Clark, who of course was a hero during his playing days in that other Missouri town known as St. Louis. Seemed to have a big hit against the Dodgers on at least one occasion that Niedenfuers to mind. I mean, springs to mind.
But it hasn't been an altogether smooth return for Clark to the Show-Me State. As far as Clark's 2004 managerial record, see if you can extrapolate from this quote from Gentile upon his hiring, courtesy of the Mavericks website:
"Baseball is a game of ups and downs," Gentile said. "I have both played on and coached teams that were in slumps. The Mavericks are obviously struggling, but we’ll work hard to improve and make our fans proud. Jack and I make a great partnership, so I am hopeful that better days are ahead for this club. ... Let’s never forget that this game is all about fun, developing young players, and teaching folks about a great American tradition."
Aye, let us never forget.
On top of everything else, Clark has just taken a second job, moonlighting as hitting coach of another Double-M team, the McKinney Marshals of the new Texas Collegiate League, debuting this year as the only summer wood-bat college league in baseball's Lone Star hotbed. Al Quintana, from Cal State Northridge, is among those on the team's roster.
"Settled in 1841, McKinney has a rich history and frequently served as a hideout for Jesse and Frank James, and the James Gang," the Marshals website says. Hiding out, of course, is the least of Clark's issues, unless that Missouri-Texas commute is a lot easier than I'd imagine. In any case, if you can make it to Columbia in about five weeks, Jack Clark Bobblehead Night is scheduled for August 21.
Update: In the comments below, Robert Fiore writes:
Speaking of batting coaches, did you ever apologize to Tim Wallach for writing he didn't have enough experience to be one? You may have done so when I wasn't watching, but considering how he's got these banjo hitters making a noise like a bass fiddle I think you owe him one.
Fiore is referring to this February 17 piece I wrote questioning Paul DePodesta's hire of Wallach.
Not to get overly literal, but I don't think I owe Wallach an apology. The evidence was not there that Wallach would be a good batting instructor, and I think I can be excused for suspecting he wouldn't be.
The fact that he does appear to have been effective reflects on my fallibility, but I made the best analysis I could. I don't see Jack Clark and Dan Evans apologizing for their fallibility, nor would I expect them to.
But Robert, you aren't really being that literal, are you? Drat. Didn't think so.
So yeah, I do owe both Wallach and DePodesta sincere congratulations and kudos for a job well done. Some people will say that the Dodgers were do for a rebound and that Wallach probably didn't do anything. But that flies in the face of reality. The idea that major league hitters are immune to coaching does not make any sense.
Tim and Paul - congratulations and kudos!
Respect and Fulfillment
... It makes for a great contrast among the contenders within the division. The Dodgers rely on selected tactics, platoons, and a number of retreads. You could argue they have a true star in Eric Gagne, but let's face it, he's a closer, and closers don't win divisions on their own. In contrast, you have the Giants, who will go wherever Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt carry them. Where Tracy fidgets, Felipe observes (to be charitable). Then you have the Padres, flashing new park money and high expectations, a hastily assembled blend of oldish mercs and homegrown goodies. There are no good guys or bad guys, just three very different teams, all with their merits. It's still a little disconcerting to think that I like what the Dodgers are up to, but it's going to be a great flag chase down the stretch.
- Chris Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus, July 12, 2004 (bold emphasis mine)
This piece of writing touches upon the core of my interest in the Dodgers. Chris Kahrl is not a Dodger fan, yet the Dodgers are earning her respect.
"I'm very happy these days," I wrote on March 12, 2003. "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."
The Dodgers don't do everything right - not by a longshot. But when they are doing something right - like making the most of their duct-taped roster to make it to first place at the All-Star Break - and yes (external validation alert), when people notice - that's as fulfilling as a victory on the field.
On the Links: Sidebar Update
I've added links to LAist and to its sports coverage, which will be anchored by Phil Wallace of the Phil Wallace Weblog. Today, Wallace notes the Dodger hire of Greg McElroy as Chief Sales of Our Soul Officer. ...
John Hill has taken his Dodger Hill site over to the Most Valuable Network, where his work is now titled Chavez Ravine. Today's entry comments on the Dodgers winning ways with Odalis Perez and Adrian Beltre injured. ...
DodgerDugout.com looks promising for a quick snapshot of the Dodgers. Opening up the home page today is a quote from Vin Scully, after Paul Lo Duca's grand slam, that caused me to double-take Sunday as well: "Talk about an anti-climatic at-bat - Shawn Green is up! The crowd doesn't want to see him." ...
In passing, I might add that Scully was critical of Green not running hard to first base on his first-inning RBI single, which allowed the Astros to throw him out at second even after Carlos Beltran missed the cutoff man.
Update: Paul Sporer of For Rich or Sporer describes how he made it past the first cut of the new ESPN Dream Job competition. A screen test awaits!
Call me surprised to realize that the Dodgers have hit 17 more home runs than the Angels this season. Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen have combined for 35, and injured players past and present Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus add another 18. After that, no Angel has more than five homers.
And yet, Anaheim still has a higher slugging average than the Dodgers, .428 to .418. The Angels have 42 more singles, 37 more doubles and 11 more triples in 119 extra at-bats.
Overall, the Dodger offense leads Anaheim in EQA, .267 to .265.
More on My Weird Infatuation with Comparing Lo Duca and Beltre
At the All-Star Break, Paul Lo Duca has struck out three more times than Adrian Beltre has walked, 23-20. Both surged to get into this point.
Other than the minor point of 13 additional home runs, the statistics between Beltre and Lo Duca score on the similarity scale. Beltre has 10 more at-bats than Lo Duca, four more hits, one more double, one fewer triple and three more walks. They both have an on-base percentage of .355.
Who's Been Worse?
Bob Timmermann kind of jumped the gun on me in this morning's comments, by bringing up Ryan Klesko, but anyway ...
With all the problems that Shawn Green has had, the Dodgers might be thankful he's not Klesko, who has two home runs and a .370 slugging percentage in 222 plate apperances, compared to Green's 10 homers and .399 slugging percentage in 356 PA.
They might be thankful, but perhaps they shouldn't be. Klesko has an EQA of .274, 10 points higher than Green's .264.
In First Place and Playing Catch-Up
The Dodgers are three games behind San Francisco and two behind San Diego - in the games played column. According to the remaining schedule, barring rainouts, this is how the Dodgers will catch up in games played:
As you can see, the Dodgers have fewer off days than their division competition for the remainder of the season:
The Giants' road trip to pitcher-challenging Colorado on September 7-8 is mitigated by off days on either side, on September 6 and 9. San Francisco has as many off days in September as the Dodgers have remaining in all of 2004.
Reality vs. Expectations
According to ESPN's RPI rankings, which take into account strength of schedule, the Dodgers are 10th in baseball, the Giants are 12th and the Padres are 21st.
According to the Pythagorean Standings (scroll down on Rob Neyer's ESPN.com home page), which calculate expected performance based on runs scored and allowed, the Dodgers should have a two-game lead on the Padres and a 2 1/2-game lead on the Giants. In real life, the Dodgers and Padres have one victory more than expected by the Pythagorean Standings; the Giants have three.
The difference is even more pronounced in the Adjusted Standings on Baseball Prospectus. Using more advanced calculations, the NL West leaders are:
Dodgers (47-39 expected, 48-38 actual)
What this implies is that the Giants and Padres are playing more over their heads than the Dodgers are. However, the Giants outperformed their expected win total throughout 2003.
The Think Blue All-Star Summertime Variety Revue Power Hour
Starting Lineup (8)
Starting Pitchers (5)
Cancellation or Fall Renewal
The Dodgers also solved their second-biggest problem of the season. By replacing Green with Beltre in the cleanup spot, they finally have a fearsome lineup anchor, while Green can bat in a place where his double plays are less likely and where his singles and walks can be considered a positive.
The Dodgers also solved their third-biggest problem of the season. They needed a second power source, one that wouldn't bite them in the OBP butt like Encarnacion. They have found him in Werth.
The Dodgers have three emerging problems, however.
The first is Beltre's health. If he doesn't play, every single day, the offense goes Amish, with everyone turning back hopelessly to Green to raise the barn.
The second is that conventional wisdom will tell them to place "proven RBI man" Encarnacion back in the lineup when he comes off the disabled list - at the expense of Werth.
The third is that because of a dearth of impact talent available on the trade market, it is unclear what moves Paul DePodesta should make - in a race in which he has little margin for error. And the internal (let alone external) grief he might take for standing pat could be, well, implosive (let alone explosive).
And yet ...
For all of the Dodgers' ragtag qualities in this 2004 season, for all of the problems they face, the jazziest, most artful defense you'll ever see has a chance to play on the October stage.
There have been some drop-dead awful numbers in the Think Blue All-Star Summertime Variety Revue Power Hour, but when you look at what's on other channels, you realize that these kids have done a plucky job. Future episodes could be truly entertaining.
Or Lima Fourth, I Suppose
It's 3:30 p.m. With left-handed Andy Pettitte starting for the Astros and Milton Bradley, Adrian Beltre, Juan Encarnacion and Shawn Green nursing injuries, here's the probable Dodger lineup for tonight.
I know what you're saying. Why have Robin Ventura pitch when Jose Lima is a more experienced pitcher. The answer, of course, is that Ventura's historic success on Fridays allows Lima to take his regular turn on Sunday.
I also like placing Guillermo Mota's speed ahead of Manny Mota's superior bat control in the lineup.
I had been preparing this week to write that my biggest error of the year was this May 27 post, suggesting that Adrian Beltre undergo surgery to address the bone spurs in his ankle immediately, rather than wait until the end of the season.
My retraction was in the works because in June, Beltre posted an OPS of 1.035. And though Beltre has begun July with 4 hits in 24 at-bats, three of those hits are home runs. Together with five walks, he's OPSing .852 this month - playing his usual supoib defense all the while.
But I'm putting my retraction out of action for now, with the news that by favoring his bad ankle, Beltre has come up with a strained quadricep that will keep him out at least until July 15.
The ankled anchor of the Dodger lineup, the quadraddled quadrupler, Beltre now has two bum limbs. And now the Dodgers face the potential change of their stretch-drive marketing campaign from from Think Blue to Think Blue Cross.
So, perhaps for the wrong reasons, I may have been right back in May. In any case, the Dodgers are again faced with a decision. Do they send Beltre back onto the field as soon as he can do more than handstands, or do they grant him a real recovery?
Speaking of limbs, I'm not going to go out on one this time - not too far, anyway. I'm only going to advise the Dodgers not to be guided by wishful thinking regarding Beltre, as they were with Hideo Nomo and Shawn Green, but by a clear, unemotional analysis of the costs and benefits of the choice before them.
If a wobbly Beltre takes the field in a week, I would like to believe it was because the Dodgers have calculated that the worst is over, not because they are praying that the worst is over.
Open Chat: Astros-Dodgers (Thursday)
Misinterpreting the End of Gagne's Streak
Joe Morgan is the latest commentator - by no means the only one - to state the following in some form or another:
Now that Gagne's streak has ended, I think it might actually help L.A. because manager Jim Tracy has the liberty to use his closer in different ways now. The streak forced Tracy to use Gagne only for save situations. Now Tracy can use Gagne more often, such as in tie ballgames, which is a plus for the Dodgers because he's their best pitcher.
Two problems with this statement:
1) Tracy already uses Gagne in tie games.
2) A save streak has no impact on a manager's willingness to use a closer in tie games, because there is no save opportunity in a tie game.
The place where liberation from Gagne's save streak could make a difference would be a situation where Gagne would enter a close game earlier. There are more ways for you to blow a save when you enter with the score 3-2 in the eighth than 3-2 in the ninth.
That being said, it is truly doubtful that Gagne's save streak had very much impact on Tracy's managing at all. Much more influential has been the presence of solid set-up men in Paul Quantrill, Guillermo Mota, and at varying times, Paul Shuey, Tom Martin and Darren Dreifort, which has given Tracy the excuse, legtimate most but not all of the time, to be less aggressive with Gagne.
Tracy believes that his set-up men can get him to the ninth inning, or close to it. When they have wavered, except on a few occasions, he has gone to Gagne in the eighth inning.
For a real change in Gagne's usage to come, at least one of two things would have to happen. Either the performance of the Dodger set-up men would have to change, or Tracy would have to radically change his bullpen philosophy and, instead using Gagne as a closer to wrap up a game, he would use Gagne as a fireman to put out a fire, no matter what the inning, no matter whether the Dodgers were winning, losing or tied.
Although firemen are more vulnerable to blowing a save than closers, if Jim Tracy already believed that Gagne was more likely as a fireman to help the Dodgers win games and reach the playoffs - and in turn save Tracy's job - do you think he would have waited this long to put Gagne in the big red truck with the dalmatian?
As the season progresses, and as times potentially become more desparate, Gagne may be more likely to enter a game at unusual moments to put out a fire. But this would have been the case whether Gagne's save streak was at 10 or 100.
It takes a .556 winning percentage to win 90 games in a major-league season. Only one National League team - the Cardinals - is on that pace.
Winner! The Most Obscure but Memorable Dodger Is ...
The quest: Name "The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger."
The level of response was memorable and hardly obscure: a total of 216 nominees.
And now, the real challenge comes - to determine a winner. What Los Angeles Dodger holds the perfect balance of anonymity and fame? Who pulled the greatest disappearing act? Which forgotten Dodger is most deeply and intimately recalled?
Who is the guy that you haven't thought of that you think the most of?
The key is balance. He can't be too memorable - goodbye, Terry Forster - or too obscure - goodbye, Fred Kipp. He can't be too recent - Bruce Aven - or too ancient - Randy Jackson. He can't have been a folk hero whose name comes up every year, like Dick Nen, nor someone you see asking trivia questions at Dodger Stadium every game, like Jim Gott.
He can't have virtually the same last name - Greg Gagne - as the most famous current Dodger. He can't be the brother of a famous Dodger - Dave Sax, Chris Gwynn. He can't have been an infamous disappointment - Greg Brock, Dave Goltz. He can't have had a real career with another team - Enos Cabell, Sid Bream.
And he certainly can't be my favorite Dodger of all time, R.J. Reynolds.
He should be a folk hero whose folk heroism went unrewarded.
I've given this a great deal of brain-churning thought over the past week. I have struggled. I have chosen and unchosen. And I have the answer - the definitive answer. The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger is:
Mike Ramsey. Not the other Mike Ramsey. This Mike Ramsey.
Michael James Ramsey came out of nowhere to win the Dodger starting job in center field in 1987. When the regular season began, he stroked 10 hits in his first 28 at-bats. Then it started to come apart. He tried to hang in there with a batting average in the low .200s, but by late May, the Dodgers gave up and traded for John Shelby.
Ramsey was sent back to the minors. He came up in September, only to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. The season ended, and with it, the major-league career of Mike Ramsey. He never made it back.
So that's how Ramsey became a finalist - someone who had hopes pinned to him like Eeyore's tail, wagging for a brief moment, only to fall off and disappear into the soil and grass of summers gone by.
The clincher for Ramsey is that only two years earlier, the Dodgers had another player named Mike Ramsey - Michael Jeffrey Ramsey. This First Mike Ramsey was more obscure and less memorable than The Second Mike Ramsey. And yet, both exist. So while The Second Mike Ramsey was memorable, it is also true that by virtue of his brief April/May career and his need to be distinguished from The First Mike Ramsey (as Bob Timmermann did in nominating the pair as "The White Mike Ramsey and The Black White Ramsey"), he retains his core obscurity. He holds the balance between being and nothingness.
The Second Mike Ramsey is, in short, The Most Obscure but Memorable Los Angeles Dodger.
Honestly, I think it's a real honor.
The Complete List of Nominees
Since Sunday, More Runs Than Hits
For a Dodger team that has been high in batting average and low in runs scored, the last two games come as a surprise: six runs on five hits against the Angels, six runs on six hits against the Diamondbacks.
Eight of the 11 hits were singles. The Dodgers have drawn 11 walks and been hit by two pitches in that time.
Tonight's starter for Arizona, Casey Fossum, is allowing an OPS of .929. In nine innings against the Dodgers this season, he has allowed nine runs on 17 hits and five walks.
Eric Gagne Is Still So Good
It wasn't DiMaggio, it wasn't Hershiser, but if anything proved how hard Eric Gagne had to work to save 84 games in a row, Monday night did. What happened in the ninth inning against Arizona could have happened any other game, and all that prevented it was Gagne's strength, will and talent. (And a leaping catch in Houston by Dave Roberts in 2003.)
My tribute, "Eric Gagne Is So Good," was written nearly 15 months ago. Tell me it doesn't still apply.
That Eric Gagne ... sure plays a mean pinball.
Independence from Randy
The Dodgers catch a break in this week's series against Arizona, starting tonight, and miss Randy Johnson, who pitched a complete game Independence Day.
Update: Heroes tonight:
Shawn Green, who made a running catch at the short wall in right field of Steve Finley's first-inning home run bid.
Olmedo Saenz, who took a mangy 1-2 pitch from Scott Service - it looked like a screwball the way it flung itself inside - and then blasted, absolutely blasted, a three-run lead-changing home run on the next pitch.
Shea Hillenbrand, driven to such heights of confidence in helping to end Eric Gagne's save streak that he tried to bunt for a base hit with runners on second and third and two out in the top of the 10th inning, and fouled out.
Shawn Green, who came up in a bases-loaded, one-out, double-play situation in the bottom of the 10th and hammered a towering sacrifice fly to win the game.
Better Be Late Not Never
Adrian Beltre is the 10th-best position player in the National League, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Beltre must be on the team. I have to believe he will make it as an injury replacement. The fact that he isn't even a "Final Vote" candidate must mean this is expected to happen, otherwise this is nothing less than your 2004 All-Star travesty.
Third on the Fourth
Who has a better chance at a playoff spot, the third-place Angels or the third-place Dodgers?
The Angels face competition from the A's, the disappointing Red Sox, the surprising Rangers and either the Twins or the White Sox. (I'm not counting Tampa Bay, but isn't it something to even be addressing them in a parenthetical.)
The Dodgers face competition from the helium-operated Giants, the laying-in-the-weeds Padres, and more than a half-dozen wild-card contenders - including even the Mets.
The Angels have four key rivals - the Dodgers have close to 10. The Angels have to beat one divisional rival plus the Red Sox and an American League Central team, or two divisional rivals. But no matter how the wild card race goes, the Dodgers still only need to beat San Diego and San Francisco.
It's a close call. If the Angels can solve their Bartolo Colon problem, I like their chances. If Odalis Perez and Edwin Jackson are back in the Dodger rotation after the All-Star Break, both local teams really could do it, as hard as it is to believe.
Edwin Jackson, you just pitch your game tonight and don't worry about your future. One batter at a time.
P.S. Tom at Shallow Center took his two-year-old daughter to her first game - read the fun story here.
As you should know, the story in the Times today that Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers cost the team Vladimir Guerrero is simply a more detailed follow-up of what the paper reported in January, before the sale was complete. That initial report accelerated the initial anger and concern about McCourt buying the team.
Summing up, the one thing stated implicitly but not explicitly in today's article is that if someone with the proper financing had bought the team, signing Guerrero would not have been a problem. So with all due respect, McCourt's attempt to directly pin the blame on the previous regime is completely disengenuous.
This is the quality I find so disheartening about McCourt. He seems happy to take credit for so many things, such as repeat sellouts and a great atmosphere when the Yankees come to town, but if you go by what he says, he's not responsible for any disappointments or missteps and everybody loves him. None of us is perfect - but the McCourts, in their "aw, shucks" fashion, try to make you think that they are. They're just fans like you and me, we're led to believe.
Well, the owner of the team isn't supposed to be a fan just like you and me. The owner of the team is supposed to be a fan just like you and me with cash.
Overall, there has been a good vibe at Dodger Stadium this year, and McCourt has every right to enjoy it. In a few respects, perhaps, having a human face as the owner has turned out to be a breath of fresh air, and there have been good actions mixed with the unfortunate. But honeymoons don't likely last forever - ask Bob Brenly.
McCourt would do much better to just be straight with us and admit yes, his financial situation cost the team Guerrero, but he is going to work hard to make up for it. Honesty is a surprisingly endearing quality and engenders a great deal of forgiveness and goodwill over the long haul.
I want to add, "And in any case, McCourt isn't fooling anybody," but I guess in many ways he is. There probably are fans who will accept the notion that McCourt should be absolved of blame in the Guerrero non-signing.
And in any case, life goes on.
So I'll write, "McCourt isn't fooling everybody." And as I've written before, it's only in McCourt's long-term favor not to insult the intelligence of those who follow the team most closely and passionately.
Thanks for all your wonderful entries in The Most Obscure But Memorable Dodger Competition. This little foray has been one of the most gratifying experiences since I began Dodger Thoughts, teaching me that I'm not alone in appreciating the beauty of the mostly insignificant. I expected two or three responses - instead something in the neighborhood of 100 came. I'd expect the Dodgers themselves would be gratified as well.
The official ranking of the responses will commence ASAP.
Shawn Green: Tommy Lasorda told you to believe in yourself. My inspriational words: keep swinging at the opposite field.
Beneath the Radar ...
Tuesday and Wednesday, Cesar Izturis had consecutive games without reaching base for the very first time this season.
In 73 games in which he has an at-bat, Izturis has had a base hit in 57 and a hit or walk in 62.
With all that, Izturis' OPS still dropped below .700, because he has had only one extra-base hit since June 18.
Izturis is one of four Dodgers with exactly 15 walks this season, along with Adrian Beltre, Paul Lo Duca and ... Jose Hernandez.
Back in '98, Much Less Rope for Nomo
Hideo Nomo's first final season with the Dodgers was in 1998.
After going 14-12 with a 4.25 ERA in 1997, Nomo opened '98 with alternating good and bad starts in April. On April 13, for example, he pitched seven innings of one-run ball against Houston. Five days later, he allowed eight runs in two-thirds of an inning - on three hits - in Chicago.
Nomo followed the worst start of his career with three quality starts, in which Nomo allowed seven runs in 24 innings (2.33 ERA). Then came another early knockout - four runs in 2 2/3 innings in Florida.
Three more quality starts followed - eight runs allowed in 20 2/3 innings (3.48 ERA). Going into his May 30 start against Cincinnati, Nomo had a 4.50 ERA for the season in 11 appearances, with seven effective starts of six innings or more. His 2-6 record to that point was somewhat misleading.
On the 30th, the Reds struck Nomo with six runs in 3 2/3 innings.
On June 4, in a trade replete with obscure Dodgers, Nomo was sent to the New York Mets with Brad Clontz for Dave Mlicki and Greg McMichael. Over those 1 1/2 years, Nomo would have contracts with seven different organizations.
Thanks to an off day, the Dodgers didn't have to replace Nomo in the starting rotation until June 6. Following starts by Ismael Valdes, Darren Dreifort, Ramon Martinez and Chan Ho Park, Mlicki took the mound in Nomo's place, and allowed six runs in three innings.
Mlicki pitched eight innings of one-run ball in his next Dodger start, showing that the Dodgers had just as inconsistent a pitcher as they had in Nomo, though perhaps a better one. Mlicki's Dodger ERA in 1998 was 4.05. Nomo's with the Mets was 4.82.
A little more than three years later, Nomo returned to the Dodgers, with little in the way of expectations, and posted ERAs of 3.39 in 2002 and 3.09 in 2003.
Nomo's career ERA has jumped from 3.64 at the end of 2003 to 4.0041 today.
As commenter Ben P pointed out this morning, the Dodgers' recent woes have hardly knocked them out of the playoff hunt. Even if Los Angeles loses a game in the standings tonight against Jason Schmidt, it will be 4 1/2 games behind in the division and only three games back in the wild card. (Who had July 1 in the pool for the first annual mention of the wild card?)
Trends are trends, and the Dodgers are sluggish right now. But if the Dodgers get a healthy Odalis Perez back, and if Edwin Jackson can cut Hideo Nomo's ERA in half, the Dodgers will do better. Those aren't the two biggest ifs in the world.
They Booed a Man in Reno, Just to Watch Him Die
I've never been booed in my life - not because I've never deserved it, but because, despite a famous In the Bleachers cartoon of years past, writers rarely get heckled by 50,000 angry fans.
Maybe being booed isn't so bad. Maybe if I had experienced it, I wouldn't be so sensitive to it.
Of course, I haven't been smacked with a 2-by-4 either. I could try that too.
* * *
Why did some fans boo Hideo Nomo when he walked off the mound last night?
It's not a trick question. I know what an 8.06 ERA is.
Though I don't boo people, I can understand fans venting while the opposition cracks, shellacks, lacquers and spackles their pitcher, and while their manager tolerates it. That's often as much about booing the event as the man.
But after it's over, after a guy has sweated through 95 pitches, almost every one of them traumatic in some fashion, how do you boo him?
Was it once-in-a-blue-moon attendees who booed, annoyed that their game had been spoiled?
Was it diehard fans who booed, to send a message that Nomo shouldn't return to that mound until the day - if that day is to ever come - he is ready to pitch with authority rather than prayer?
Was it the fates who booed, enforcing the rules that those who earn cheers one day must earn boos the next, to balance out the cosmos?
At a certain point, the past becomes irrelevant when you play the game. You have to send out your best nine of that day, regardless of how great a career someone has had. Otherwise, the starting center fielder for the Giants last night would have been Willie Mays.
But when a guy is walking off the field, if you have any knowledge at all to what he has done for your team in the past, the joy he has brought so many people, the effort he has put in for so many years, booing sounds way more hurtful to me than an 8.06 ERA.
* * *
Turning to Shawn Green ...
The original title of this piece was going to be, "Did They Boo Loo Gehrig?"
I have wondered over the past few days whether Yankee fans in 1939, before they knew that Gehrig was fatally ill, had booed their hero when his performance suddenly fell off the eight-year-old Empire State Building.
Some quick research on Retrosheet this morning reminded me that Gehrig made it through only eight games in 1939. Though he was 4 for 28, that probably wasn't enough time for Yankee fans to get angry at someone so beloved. Gehrig was coming off a fine 1938 season, batting .295 with 29 home runs and 114 RBI.
No one on the Dodgers, as far as I know, has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. But I've never seen a power hitter still in his prime look more weak, look more like he was suffering the initial effects of Lou Gehrig's Disease, than Shawn Green.
Wednesday, Dodger manager Jim Tracy dropped Green to sixth in the order, and, though he is still holding out for patience, Green has accepted the demotion.
"This team, right now, Belly should be hitting fourth," Green told MLB.com. "Today's lineup, it's fine. I haven't been productive. If you move a guy down with the intent of it being a holding pattern until the player gets hot, sure. I'm just trying to get in a good groove and not worrying about anything else. When my swing is right, it's right."
Obviously, Dodger fans aren't happy that Green is struggling. Some will be satisfied that he was dropped to sixth in the lineup; others won't be satisfied until he is dropped further or benched.
For my part, no matter how much he claims otherwise, Green does not convince me that something isn't physically wrong with him. He kept quiet about being hurt last year and had a major health issue heading into this season. There is very little evidence that Green would publicly disclose a physical problem.
I can be unhappy about his performance. I can even yell at him when he only jogs after a foul fly ball to right, as he did Tuesday.
But I can't boo an injured player. And something - whatever it is - about Green is hurting - even if I'm wrong about the physical and it turns out to be only mental.
* * *
Update: The following excerpts are from the 1939 New York Times, courtesy of Eric Enders.
March 15: Lou Gehrig, despite all his intensive work, is off to a typically slow Spring start. ... Gehrig and Keller have one blow apiece to show for twelve times at bat. These figures, of course, are nothing to be alarmed about. Yet an improvement would be welcomed.
March 21: "Why should I sit up nights worrying about the way Lou is looking down here? All I've got to do is look at the record book and turn over and go to sleep." - Yankee manager Joe McCarthy
March 30: Everybody seems to be worried about Gehrig. Everybody but me, that is. ... he's got confidence in himself, he's feeling fine, and I refuse to worry about him unless and until he makes me in the championship race. - McCarthy
April 3: To Sports Editor of The New York Times: Like many other fans, I attribute Lou Gehrig's recent failure to play good baseball to the havoc wrought by thirteen years of uninterrupted comptetition. I believe it was Jimmie Dykes who suggested that the Yankee first baseman go off on an extended fishing trip and forget baseball.
May 2: Lou Gehrig's matchless record of uninterrupted play in American League championship games, stretched over fifteen years and through 2,130 straight contests, came to an end today. ... With the consent of Manager Joe McCarthy, Gehrig removed himself because he, better than anybody else, perhaps, recognized his competitive decline and was frankly aware of the fact he was doing the Yankees no good defensively or on the attack.
The present plan is to keep him on the bench. Relaxing and shaking off the mental hazards he has admittedly encountered this season, he may swing into action in the hot weather, which should have a beneficial effect upon his tired muscles.
May 3: "He feels blue. He is dejected." - McCarthy
May 3: Gehrig, visibly affected, explained his decision quite frankly.
"I decided last Sunday night on this move," said Lou. "I haven't been a bit of good to this team since the season started. It would not be fair to the boys, to Joe or to the baseball public for me to try going on. In fact, it would not be fair to myself, and I'm the last consideration. ...
"McCarthy has been swell about it the whole time. He'd let me go until the cows came home, he is that considerate of my feelings, but I knew in Sunday's game that I should get out of there.
"I went up there four times with men on base. Once there were two there. A hit would have won the ball game for the Yankees, but I missed, leaving five stranded as the Yankees lost. Maybe a rest will do me some good. Maybe it won't. Who knows? Who can tell? I'm just hoping."
Gehrig retired June 21, 1939, two days after his 36th birthday, with the announcement that he suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Lou Gehrig Day was held at Yankee Stadium July 4, 1939.
Can you imagine what that year was like?
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Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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