Monthly archives: August 2004
Once Again, It's Randy
Randy Johnson isn't in the Dodgers' rear-view mirror after all. Once more, he's blocking the road.
It might surprise you to learn that in 20 career starts against the Dodgers, Johnson has emerged with a 7-5 record, despite a 2.79 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 145 innings. The current Dodger roster has a combined lifetime OPS of .591 against Johnson, with Shawn Green leading the way at .870.
Among National League starting pitchers, Johnson ranks fourth in ERA since the All-Star break at 2.35 - but in that span he has two victories in nine starts. For his part, Dodger starter Jeff Weaver is seventh in the league in ERA since the All-Star Game, at 2.77.
Weaver and Johnson hooked up July 15 - remember that game? Johnson left with a 3-0 lead after seven innings. Moments later, Shawn Green hit a grand slam off Randy Choate to give the Dodgers a 4-3 victory.
In First on September First: Hang On
Leading is easy, clinching is hard.
Even with a healthy lead in your pennant race, a relative eternity awaits before you get to raise the flag. This invites a tension that more often than not will be more than is necessary.
Most of the time you win with a September 1 lead - but you lose just enough to make it interesting.
Since moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, the Dodgers have been in first place, or tied for first, 13 times on September 1. Nine of those times, the Dodgers have made it to the next round - but the earliest they have clinched was three weeks into the month, with 11 games to spare. The finish line is almost always a little farther away than you'd like.
Here's the good news for this year's Dodger team - unless you believe in jinxes. Even if they lose a game tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers have never blown a September 1 lead like the one they've earned in 2004.
With a lead of two games or fewer on September 1, the Dodgers have lost as many titles as they've won - three good, three bad. Out of seven September 1 leads of more than two games, the Dodgers have successfully closed out six. The biggest September 1 lead they have blown was 3 1/2 games, in 1962. (It was even worse than that, as you'll recall or see below. And 1973 was nothing to smile about, either...)
Dodger Teams in First Place on September 1
Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Giants tied the Dodgers on September 11 and moved a game up on September 12. The Dodgers rallied to catch the Giants two days later and then went two games up on September 16. Infamously, the Giants swept a two-game series September 17-18, with one-run victories in both games, sending the Dodgers into a five-game losing streak that knocked them into second place for the remainder of the season.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Dodgers fell out of first place on September 2, regained the lead September 4, were tied for the better part of a week (September 6-10), then fell into second place for two weeks. A 4-3 victory over the Rockies gave Los Angeles the lead September 25, but the Dodgers lost the next day. They took the lead for good with a 7-4 victory September 27 and held on for the final three days of the season.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: In the first of several topsy-turvy Septembers for Los Angeles in the 1990s, the Dodgers trailed the Braves when September 1 began, but tied them at the end of the day, then went up on September 4. No more than two games separated the teams for the remainder of the season. The lead changed hands seven times, with the Dodgers holding the lead from September 21 (thanks to a 2-1 victory over Atlanta) until the Braves tied it October 2. Atlanta went up for good on October 4, and clinched the division with one day to spare October 5.
Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Astros cut the Dodger lead to four games on September 9, then faded. The Reds made something of a late run but had too much ground to make up, with the Dodgers clinching the division on September 26 with six games to spare.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: A breeze, mostly. Leading by as many as 9 1/2 games, the Dodgers lost five out of six, allowing the Reds to slice the lead to 4 1/2. That was the worst of it, though, and the Dodgers clinched on October 2.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: Tension but no drama - the Dodgers never relinquished their lead, but did not clinch until their 160th game, September 30.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Dodgers were never threatened, leading by as many as 9 1/2 games, a cushion plenty large enough to withstand the Reds winning nine of their final 10. Clinch day was September 24 - game 156.
Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Dodgers, who started the season 22-4, played strong to the finish. They accelerated to a 13 1/2-game lead early in September and posted their earliest clinch in Los Angeles: September 20, game 151.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: The Reds beat the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 13 and 14 to cut the Cincinnati deficit to 1 1/2 games. The next day, behind a Jimmy Wynn seventh-inning grand slam and a Don Sutton complete game, the Dodgers defeated the Reds, 7-1, to stem the tide. The Reds lost five of seven games, and not even a six-game winning streak near season's end could rescue them. Still, the Dodgers didn't wrap up the division until the season's second-to-last day, October 1.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: No one ever talks about 1973, but this was one of the most miserable collapses in Dodger history. From August 31 through September 12, the Dodgers dropped nine consecutive games and 11 of 12 - needing only two weeks to turn a four-game lead into a five-game deficit. On September 16, the Reds' lead grew to 6 1/2 games. The Dodgers trimmed the margin back to 4 1/2 games in time for a three-game series with the Reds beginning September 21, but lost the first two, including an 11-9 defeat in which Sutton was KOed in a seven-run first inning. Cincinnati clinched September 24 - game 157.
Team: 9/1 ...Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: Three teams began the month within half a game of the lead, with three others within 5 1/2 games. San Francisco made the strongest move, tying the Dodgers with a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles on September 7 (the teams' last head-to-head meeting) and taking over the league lead a day later. On September 16, both the Dodgers and Reds trailed the Giants by 4 1/2 games. So what did the Dodgers do? They finished the season on a 15-1 run, tying the Giants on the 26th, passing them on the 28th and clinching the league title October 2 (game 161).
Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: By September 15, the Cardinals had reduced the Dodgers' six-game lead to one, just in time for a three-game series between the two teams in St. Louis. Los Angeles swept the series and never looked back, clinching the division September 24 (game 157).
Team: 9/1 ... Rest of Year ... Final
Key moments: This one, people talk about. On September 22, the Dodgers recorded their 100th victory. They led the National League by four games with seven to play in the regular season. But they lost six of their final seven, including a 1-0 defeat at home against St. Louis on the season's final day, and fell into a tie with San Francisco. A three-game playoff followed, with the Giants routing Sandy Koufax, 8-0, in the opener, losing 8-7 in the middle game, then winning, 6-4, in the finale - with a four-run ninth inning in Los Angeles.
Thanks, Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.
Reframing the Beltre Question
Tim Marchman of the New Partisan makes the case for signing Adrian Beltre to a long-term contract, even though this is Beltre's first season performing at an elite level. (Thanks to Eric Enders for the link.)
One thing I've noticed more acutely than ever with the Adrian Beltre discussion is the limitations of imprecise vocabulary in discussing whether or not to resign a player.
People will say things like:
without naming years or dollars. And obviously we understand why - it takes more thought to come up with years and dollars than to make a blanket statement.
But clearly, there is a price where everyone in the world would resign Beltre - say, one year at $310,000. And clearly, there's a price where no one in the world would sign Beltre - say 20 years at $20 million per year.
Beltre's contract will come between these two extremes. So I just want to make a suggestion - to you, to me, to the media, to whomever - that we reframe the question to make the discussion more effective:
How much in dollars and years should the Dodgers be willing to offer Adrian Beltre?
The MVP Race Is Over - And Just Beginning
In July, Adrian Beltre couldn't make the National League All-Star Team. When August began, Adrian Beltre was not even mentioned as a candidate for NL Most Valuable Player. Today, in some quarters, he is the favorite.
However, Barry Bonds is basically going to have to go 0 for September to lose his rightful claim to the award.
Through August 26, Beltre trailed Bonds handily (and lagged six others as well) in Win Shares, according to The Hardball Times.
42 Barry Bonds
As in most measures, Bonds leads the field by a ridiculous margin - the diference between first and second place in Win Shares is greater than the difference between second and eighth.
Parenthetically, one might look at this list and wonder how San Diego second baseman Mark Loretta could be ahead of Beltre. Loretta's OPS is more than 100 points behind Beltre's, 1.048-.909). Beltre leads Loretta in Baseball Prospectus EQA (a park-adjusted stat) as well, .339 to .321.
Meanwhile, Bonds' OPS is 1.430 and his EQA is .458. Hello.
Sunday, Bonds went 4 for 5 with two home runs and six RBI to lift the Giants over the NL East-leading Braves, and the only thing the press seems to care about today is his countdown to 700 home runs (he's at 696). Not to minimize at all the importance of Bonds' career achievements, but this is exactly the kind of game that should remind people that he is the National League's Most Valuable Player. Not only are his statistics dominant, but they are meaningful. In a game the Giants needed to stay tied for the Wild Card lead, Bonds delivered. It was exactly the kind of performance that Beltre is getting so much (deserved) recognition for - yet when Bonds does it, it's not even the lead story.
Look, I wouldn't trade Beltre for Bonds, but that's because I'm human. I like Beltre. But Bonds remains the most dominant player in the game, no matter how tired a story it is.
Anyway, here comes September, and as we saw in August, MVP perceptions can change faster than the Dodger starting rotation. Assuming Bonds does not go 0 for September, he has the statistical race locked up. So he can only lose on drama, on emotion.
People think Rolen, Pujols and Edmonds of St. Louis can't win the award because they'll cut into each other's vote, but the real reason is that they can't catch Bonds on stats, and because the Cardinals are so far ahead in their divisional race, they can't catch him on drama either.
So if there's going to be any doubt at all about the MVP race, it probably will come down to Bonds and Beltre. And, bless the fates' hearts, Bonds and Beltre will face each other six times in the season's final nine days: September 24-26 in San Francisco, October 1-3 in Los Angeles.
Again, Bonds all but has the MVP won on technical merit, but style points remain to be decided.
What a highly charged finish this might be. If the Giants sustain their run at the Dodgers, those final games could offer dual duels: for the division title and the MVP.
ESPN Baseball Tonight researcher Mark Simon has spent the past month surrounded by people wondering why the Dodgers would be so foolhardy in giving away Guillermo Mota (Paul Lo Duca aside for the moment), but writes that "one in-person view of Yhency Brazoban" explained it.
Simon hung out in the Dodger locker room long enough to ask Dodger closer Eric Gagne if he had any advice for Brazoban.
"No," Gagne said defiantly. "He doesn't need any."
Of course, the Dodgers would certainly look better if they had Brazoban pitching the seventh and Mota the eighth. But they'd also look a lot better if they had Brad Penny in the rotation, so it's just not fair to judge. Penny's injury continues to look like a case not only of unfortunate severity, but timing.
Willie Crawford, 1946-2004
Everything happened fast, perhaps too fast, for Willie Crawford.
He made his major-league debut nine days after his 18th birthday, on September 16, 1964. A graduate of Fremont High School, Crawford had just signed a six-figure contract with the Dodgers. He had four singles and a double in 16 at-bats in his first cup of coffee. He made little progress for the next three years, though - it took him until 1968 to double his career hit total.
Crawford retired early too, just after turning 31. He left with a career on-base percentage of .349 and a career slugging percentage of .408. Might not seem like much now, but for his era, Crawford was an above-average hitter, though in 10 of his 14 seasons, he sat out at least 40 games.
His early debut in the big leagues has long fascinated me, but I never saw him play. He left the Dodgers in only my second year of following the team, before I became personally aware of him.
Friday, Crawford died in Los Angeles at the age of 57. Too soon.
Hear Me, Hear Me
BaseballOutsider.com decided to take stock of the Dodgers by talking to me for its radio segment. No commercial interruptions. It was that special.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Mets
The Answer, Of Course, Is B - Bubba Trammell
Follow this link to take ESPN.com's preseason poll on the Dodgers, with these timely questions:
1) Which newcomer will have the greatest impact?
2) Which season will Shawn Green's 2004 numbers most closely resemble?
3) Is this the season Adrian Beltre emerges as a consistent offensive threat?
4) With the hiring of older coaches and managers as a major trend in sports, should the Dodgers bring back Tom Lasorda?
5) The over/under for the Dodgers is 80.5 wins. Will they finish over or under?
6) The Dodgers will ________________________.
As for Question 6, well ...
Open Chat: Dodgers-Expos (Thursday)
Choi to the World
Everybody knows that the Dodgers never intended to end up at the July 31 trading deadline with both Brad Penny and Randy Johnson on their roster.
But did they mean to come away with both Jayson Werth and Hee Seop Choi?
When the Dodgers acquired Choi and Penny on July 30, there was a chance that Werth would be accompanying Penny and others to Arizona the next day in trades for Johnson, Steve Finley or Brent Mayne.
But on the 31st, when the Johnson trade was falling through, the Dodgers went on to acquire Finley - without losing Werth.
Make no mistake, Finley has had a superb Dodger debut, with an OPS of .971. But having both Finley and Werth on the roster minimized the value of the Penny-Choi acquisition - even before Penny injured himself a week later.
Before the trades, the Dodgers had six relative constants in their lineup: Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Adrian Beltre, Cesar Izturis, Milton Bradley, and the platoon of Alex Cora and Jose Hernandez. The departure of Lo Duca for Florida didn't change that number - it only replaced him with Dave Ross (soon to be augmented by Mayne instead of trade-vetoing Charles Johnson of Colorado).
When the Dodgers landed Finley, that upped the list of lineup constants to seven.
That meant that the most impact Choi could have upon his arrival, barring a slump or injury to Green, Bradley or Finley, was to augment the lineup slot held mostly by Werth (who had essentially usurped it from Dave Roberts).
Here are some numbers on Werth:
June OPS: .868
Werth has not had a good August (though as slumps go it's pretty mild), nor has he torn it up against right-handed pitching this year. But he's still having a solid year. Meanwhile, here's Choi:
June OPS: .868 (yep, same as Werth)
For 2004, Choi and Werth are about even as hitters - Choi slightly better, especially considering he has had more at-bats and is thus more tested. It appears, though, that Choi has the ability to give the Dodgers an extra edge against right-handed pitching by playing in place of Werth. (This edge would be mitigated by the dropoff at catcher with Lo Duca gone - but keep in mind that Florida doesn't give up Penny without getting Lo Duca. Werth and Mota for Penny and Choi wasn't an option.)
A few things have happened, however:
1) The Dodgers faced a string of left-handed starters in the immediate aftermath of the trades.
2) In his desire to keep his bench fresh, Dodger manager Jim Tracy has taken away starts from Choi against right-handed pitchers so that Robin Ventura and Jason Grabowski could play.
3) Tracy has also had the confidence in Werth to continue starting him against right-handed pitching on occasion.
As others have noted already, Choi has fewer complete games as a Dodger this season than Kazuhisa Ishii - even when he starts, he usually doesn't finish, instead coming out for a pinch-hitter. A Dodger for 26 days now, Choi has only 47 plate appearances - even though Werth, Bradley, Green and Finley have all suffered from nagging injuries in August.
As the Dodgers move down the stretch, Choi's playing time may increase for several reasons. The imbalance of lefty pitching opponents could recede - although Randy Johnson remains on the horizon. Finley could cool off or need more rest. The occasional start that still goes to Werth against right-handed starters could disappear. Green or Bradley could go down to injury, making the depth Choi provides invaluable.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Choi can have a great deal of influence on the Dodgers' chances of winning in 2004 - or that he could have much more influence than Dave Roberts, who was discarded to Boston, would have had.
Perhaps what's most interesting is this. In recent years, as the Dodgers have teetered on the edge of competitiveness, the question has come up at the trading deadline: Should Los Angeles be sellers or buyers. Even in 2004, this was true for much of the summer, until the Dodgers got red-hot in July.
Sellers or buyers? Buyers or sellers?
This year, Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta answered the question this way: How about both?
Acquiring Choi, Penny, Finley and Mayne, on paper, gave the Dodgers an edge in 2004 over Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, Koyie Hill and the other minor leaguers they traded away. The fact that Penny got injured altered the intended outcome, at least for now, but not what the reasonable expectation should have been. (By the way, Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports Weekly reported this week that Penny had several clean arm examinations while with Florida this season.)
By themselves, Choi and Penny more than make up for Lo Duca and Mota - though with Penny out, since Choi doesn't pitch or catch, Dodger blue is in the red on that individual trade for now. Of course, combine the Choi-Penny trade with the acquisition of Finley for spare parts, and even with Penny hurt, things start to look better.
For the future, the Dodgers have players that can help them much more than Lo Duca or Mota could. The potential for a young power hitter like Choi (who is a mere 65 days older than Werth - and 22 days older than Beltre, for that matter) to have an impact on the Dodgers increases with each passing day, month and year - he is a reliable commodity on a roster where other players are getting older or free-agenter.
No doubt, judgment will be rendered on the Dodger trades in October. If the Dodgers don't make it - whatever the reason - many will blame Lo Duca and Mota's departure. And even among supporters of the trade, disappointment over how the season played out would be profound.
But we can't fairly render judgment on the trade for years to come. And there's every reason to remain optmistic that DePodesta made the right move.
Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times looks today at Adrian Beltre's rise. Gleeman, like the rest of us, is struck by how Beltre went backward before he went forward. But I think the reminder here is that there actually is such a thing as coaching and mental approach in the game, especially with young players. Beltre started out with promise, struggled as pitchers figured him out, then, in fits and starts, learned what it would take to succeed.
Beltre might not have the season next year that he's having this year, but the idea that he's going to unlearn all the lessons he has learned seems overly cynical.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Expos (Wednesday)
Amid his penetrating look at the career of Gary Sheffield, Jay Jaffe of The Futility Infielder has reached Sheffield's tenure with the Dodgers. Take a look.
At Age 25: Beltre vs. A-Rod
Adrian Beltre, age 25, 2004: 1.027 OPS, .330 EQA
Seattle's Safeco Field, in 2000, appears to have been even more of a pitcher's park than Dodger Stadium of the present.
But the comparison astonishes.
Rodriguez walked a career-high 100 times in the year MM en route to a .420 on-base percentage. Beltre's OBP is at .380 and rising, but he won't catch Rodriguez there. However, Beltre's current slugging percentage of .646 is significantly higher than Rodriguez's .606.
Update: If the Dodger salary budget in 2005 were $100 million, how much would you give to Beltre for the first year of his next contract?
Update 2: Let me rephrase that. How high would you be willing to go?
Update 3: Rob McMillin at 6-4-2 takes the Beltre salary tangent further, which is good, since I only meant to compare Beltre to A-Rod for now before getting sidetracked.
The Quality of Ishii Is Not Strained
Quality starts are overrated as a statistic - they don't adjust for the strength of the opponent or the curiosities of the stadium. Allowing three earned runs or less in six innings or more means different things in different places and times.
Nonetheless, even with their flaws, quality starts do help perspectivize the season of tonight's Dodger starting pitcher, Kazuhisa Ishii.
It's rather strange that, with Brad Penny injured, the Dodgers are rushing to get Hideo Nomo into the rotation in Ishii's place, considering that Nomo is unlikely to approach Ishii's level of success.
Ishii has 13 quality starts in 23 appearances this season. He has been solid more than half the time he pitches.
Nomo, in 14 appearances, has two quality starts. Two. Even banking on Nomo being healthier, it's a leap of faith to assume he'd rattle off quality start after quality start at a rate faster than Ishii.
The opponents for Ishii's quality starts in 2004 are:
Admittedly, Ishii has taken advantage of lowly Arizona three times. On the other hand, there are are six playoff contenders on that list. There are six road games on the list out of 13 games.
Ishii is a tightrope act. And he has produced only one quality start in his past five. But he isn't remotely as hopeless as the Nomo who staggered to and from the mound game after game this season.
Adrian Beltre has caught Scott Rolen in Value Over Replacement Player on Baseball Prospectus. Of course, Barry Bonds still nearly has as much VORP as Beltre and Rolen combined.
In two-plus years of doing Dodger Thoughts, I'm not sure that the site's clarion call, "Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball," has ever gotten any comment - beyond my wife, who is completely nonplused by the statement.
But this month, two different writers for the Los Angeles Downtown News have not only noticed Dodger Thoughts, but the header as well. And they have two different takes.
From Michael X. Ferraro, who likes Dodger Thoughts despite the header:
"I miss Paul LoDuca 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."
This plaintive admission comes from Jon Weisman, who runs a website called "Dodger Thoughts" (all-baseball.com/ dodgerthoughts). It is self-described as "an outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball." I know right now you're tempted to cue mental video of Dr. Phil scratching himself, but Dodger Thoughts is actually quite perceptive and enjoyable, rolling with the punches by using both head and heart.
From Nora Zelevansky, who thinks the description works great:
Political types are not the only ones taking advantage of the Web. Sports fans are also using it. Jon Weisman's site, Dodger Thoughts, focuses on Downtown's favorite baseball team. No one better describes Dodger Thoughts than the blogger himself. The top of the home page reads, "Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball."
Before making my first entry on the site, I envisioned Dodger Thoughts as my "psychological" outlet. Simply stated, this reflects the profound pull the Dodgers have on my mental state. Sure, it would have been interesting and perhaps helpful for me to seek out a therapist for weekly sessions exclusively relating to the Dodgers. Instead, I've got this.
No, not really. It just feels that way.
The Playoff Seat Cushion - capturing the distance between making the playoffs as a division champion or wild card and missing them - debuted on this site July 28 at 3 1/2 games in the Dodgers' favor. Now, it sits on the Dodger Thoughts sidebar at its lowest point since its debut: 4 games.
Nearly four weeks have gone by, the Giants have rallied, the Dodgers have faltered - and no ground lost.
Remember, back in July, 3 1/2 games was a huge, sudden surge. It was a flowering. But The Playoff Seat Cushion went up before it went back down - as high as 7 1/2 games - and so now the bloom is bloomin' gone.
Feeding the seediness is how curseworthy the losses have been. In the past five days, Adrian Beltre has helped tie three games with home runs; somehow the Dodgers won only one. The bullpen, formerly our Big Brother, now feels like it's abandoned us back at the foster home with no more trips to the zoo.
In just two days, Odalis Perez and Wilson Alvarez went from stalwarts to warts, and avoiding a three-game losing streak seems to depend on what side of the bed Kazuhisa Ishii wakes up on Tuesday.
Brad Penny, whose presence could have anchored both the starting rotation and the bullpen by pushing Alvarez into setup time, just won't get better. The nerve of that Penny - literally.
Darren Dreifort withered once more like a grape left too long on the vine. Out in Las Vegas, journeymen are battering Hideo Nomo. Edwin Jackson, the precious flower of the farm system, whose career people kept saying we daren't risk, is now being pushed to the front lines faster than a grunt into the Battle of the Marne.
A discernable lack of enthusiasm from Jim Tracy toward Hee Seop Choi weakens the case that was validly made for his acquisition. The catchers in Paul Lo Duca's stead remain ugly ducklings, not swans, offering no pleasant surprises.
Mike Venafro exists.
I don't like it. How could you like it?
Beltre, Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Jeff Weaver, Jose Lima and until this week, Alvarez, Perez and Giovanni Carrara have been playing out of their minds. Yhency Brazoban hasn't been bad either, though his sparkling ERA hides some inherited runners he's allowed to score. But nine Dodgers have been exceptional in August. You decide whether nine is a lot or a little. Either way, the team is 12-9: playing .571, 93-win pace ball.
It'd be peaches and herb if Eric Gagne hadn't lost games plural last week, but don't you have to take it if you're going to take a journeyman like Lima posting a 2.79 ERA in 29 August innings?
Lo Duca's gone, but in 20 games this month, Beltre, Finley and Green have combined for 71 hits. including 13 doubles, 21 home runs and an OPS of over 1.000. That's so good it's practically ungraspable.
We live in the moment. Sunday, my father's cousin, from the Yankee branch of the family, said with a steel-straight face that the Yankee season was over. This is an overreaction.
I reminded him that the Yankees still had the best record in baseball. I assured him most bluntly that the Yankees would play in October. Now sure, there might be trouble in the Bronx. Boston has underperformed compared to its runs scored and allowed all season - there's a sleeping dog at Fenway. The Yankee starting pitching is not unlike the that of the Dodgers - a mixture of good names and bad, none of whom can necessarily be counted on to do the expected. But honestly, who could fear for the Yankees?
A week ago, Minnesota felt Cleveland breathing down its neck so acutely, the Twins could have told you what flavor Tic Tacs the Indians were sucking. Seven games later, all losses, and you've got a whole other brand of sucking - it's pure halitosis in the mouth of Lake Erie.
The team that stands to knock the Dodgers out of the playoffs if the Giants somehow catch them? The Cubs, whose disgruntled fans a week ago made the anger of Mel Gibson's Braveheart crew look kittenish.
We live in the moment. We live in a world where I was thisclose tonight to writing an entirely different piece about six-run comebacks (for what it's worth, it involved a comparison to a six-run late-summer comeback by the nascent Atlanta Braves dynastists back at the start of the 1990s).
We live in a world where two losses in a row is at least one too many, where average is negative, where insecurities flower among us like we were teenagers hugging against the wall at the school dance.
Is there any group of fans outside of St. Louis - whose Playoff Seat Cushion is 14 - that can feel secure about its team? We ache with each loss - but that's a statement about us, not the team. For a division leader, it remains more likely that a tough stretch is less a collapse than a future anecdote.
We're in it, folks. We're in it deep. We feel it coming and going. We revel and we despair.
We are baseball fans in a pennant race.
May all of us find vigilance.
Bobbleheads R Not Us
The Dodgers are looking for a new advertising contract, according to Adweek, which notes that "sources said recent work by WongDoody featuring a family of bobblehead fans polarized those within the Dodgers organization."
Well, isn't that interesting? Guess that Grandpa's head exploding or being twisted around was symbolic.
What I found curious about this year's bobblehead concept, like it or not, was that there was no follow-through at Dodger Stadium itself. Back in the spring, I expected to find Bob Bobblehead on sale everywhere - to close the marketing circle, as it were. So to me, while the commercials themselves were of no artistic merit, the biggest flaw in the approach was that the Dodgers themselves seemed to embarrassed to acknowledge it in person.
Of course, it's easy to shoot down bad ideas - much harder to propse good ones. But I'll say this - you could do worse than just show 30 seconds of game action, of Vin Scully describing a dramatic confrontation, of Adrian Beltre or Eric Gagne being heroic. (No, I don't think Gagne's heroic days are over.) Do the ad as if this were the climatic 30 seconds of the 2004 highlight video. Yes, the Dodgers need to market to the casual baseball fan - but isn't casual all they've been doing in ads for years now? Perhaps the casual fan needs to be reminded that there's heat at the ballpark too.
Keep in mind that we're talking 2005 here - 2004 is done from a marketing standpoint. Most of the tickets have been sold already, or will be as the pennant race enters the final month. So the Dodgers need an approach that will work in the calm of March. Still, even in March, people need excitement. I think some people will find it a revelation that there actually is excitement at Dodger Stadium, not just light comedy and cotton candy. How about all of the above?
Open Chat: Dodgers-Expos (Monday)
And Now, Back to the Adrian Beltre Euphoria Tour
Most Home Runs, Season, By a Third Baseman
# HR Player, Year
2. 48 Mike Schmidt, 1980
3. 47 Troy Glaus, 2000
5. 46 Vinny Castilla, 1998
7. 45 Chipper Jones, 1999
9. 43 Al Rosen, 1953
11. 42 Harmon Killebrew, 1959
12. 41 Tony Batista, 2000
18. 40 Ken Caminiti, 1996
25. 39 Harmon Killebrew, 1966
27. 38 Adrian Beltre, 2004
There are 18 different players on this list.
Update: Great chart over at John's Dodger Blog showing how rare it is for a home run champion, as Beltre might be, to start the season batting seventh or lower in the lineup. Try 30 years since the last time it happened.
Update 2: Take Killebrew off the top spot - he played half the season at first base.
A Glimpse, If Not a Return, of the Shawn Green of Old
Taking a brief moment away from the Adrian Beltre Euphoria Tour for a nod to the fact that with nine games remaining before September, Shawn Green has eight home runs in a month for the first time since hitting 10 in August 2002.
When I wrote that "The Shawn Green of Old Will Not Return" 10 months ago, the gist of the article was that the condition of Green's shoulder would prevent him from being the home run hitter that he had been. It was emphatically not that his career was over, but that flareups of his condition would mute his home run swing.
Though I didn't use specific numbers, my suspicion was that not only was Green's last 40-homer season behind him, so was his last 30-homer season.
Green had long been a streaky hitter, and might well continue to be one - but streaks would now be harder to come by. And, in fact, no Green streak has been harder to come by than the current one.
April 5-August 6: 401 AB, 14 HR
We can celebrate the current streak even as we retain skepticism about what Green will do over the long haul.
At the same time, to be fair to Green and to you, I can't say the current run hasn't given me pause. Can he keep this streak going? Can he get to the next one this year and not next?
The decision to move Beltre to the cleanup spot in place of Green needs no further validation. The decision to keep Green somewhere in the lineup needs no validation either. And for all the problems the Dodgers have had in August in the bullpen, at catcher and in their ambivalence about using Hee Seop Choi, they are winning, and they have picked up a power bat where perhaps they had given up hope for one.
Beltre and Green have 17 home runs in August. Perhaps you'd rather have Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, but that's a considerable 4-5 punch.
Open Chat: Braves-Dodgers (Sunday)
Open Chat: Braves-Dodgers (Saturday)
Generally speaking, talking only about the final hour Friday night, I'd say that Eric Gagne took about $1 million out of his 2005 salary and put it directly into Adrian Beltre's.
However wonderfully Gagne pitches for the remainder of the season, that potential for fallibility will remain on the record. And however much Beltre comes back down to earth, that potential for transcendency will remain as well.
With all the hysteria about the upcoming six games with league-leading St. Louis, did anyone notice that 13 of the Dodgers' next 19 games are against Montreal (4), the New York Mets (3) and Arizona (6)?
Open Chat: Braves-Dodgers (Friday)
National League East-leading Atlanta arrives in town with the Dodgers popping pitchers like Skittles, gasping for them like marathoners at mile 22, searching high and low for them like the latest folk remedy. The newest, Elmer Dessens? Never liked him. Strikes out no one; gets hit a lot. But maybe he can do a Jose Lima imitation, without the personality or innings. He was never really cut out to be a starting pitcher - maybe as a three-to-six out guy he can produce like he recently has with Arizona.
The interchangeable Dodger staff, filled with vitamins, meat, pitchertables and minerals:
Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? So why don't you join the thousands of happy peppy people and try one. That's Vita-meta-pitcher-min.
Seriously, it's all just so much filler. I await the Penny/Jackson healing.
Next Stop Porterville
Dodger announcer Ross Porter discusses an L.A. team in contention, the July trades, and the day, however far off, that change might come in the broadcast booth
Presidents come and go, both in the Oval Office in Washington D.C. and the Dodger office in Los Angeles, but Dodger announcers are like Supreme Court justices. The broadcast booth is the high court, a hallowed place that offers a lifelong vocation.
That doesn’t mean that it immediately occurred to Ross Porter back in 1976, when the Dodgers introduced him to the media as their newest announcer, that he would be still be broadcasting Dodger games nearly three decades later.
"The day that they announced that I was joining the broadcasting team, Walter Alston had just announced he was retiring after 23 years,” Porter told Dodger Thoughts in an interview Wednesday. “The 1976 season had just ended, and they had a little thing to introduce me to the media. Walter O’ Malley, bless his heart, was still alive ... and Walter got up to introduce me, and I’ll never forget he made this statement: ‘We’re happy to have Ross with us’ and something to the effect of Walter Alston just retired after 23 years, and we’ll come back here in 23 years and Ross will still be going.
“And I’ve thought about that often, and I’ve gotten to 28 now.”
Twenty-eight years is as long as any U.S. Supreme Court Justice has ever served, save John Marshall (1801-1835). Of course, Porter works alongside a man who puts Marshall’s tenure to shame: Vin Scully is in his 55th year in the high-backed chairs.
Inevitably, when the opportunity to discuss Dodger broadcasting appears, the elephant in the interview room is how long Scully will remain a Dodger broadcaster. But the question also applies to Porter, often considered the heir to Scully’s Chief Justice seat - yet someone who is 65 years old himself.
Porter emphasized that neither he nor Scully have any plans to leave the Dodgers, and that their departures, while inevitable someday, aren’t currently being discussed with the Dodger executive branch. However, that doesn’t mean that Porter and Scully don’t address the subject in chambers.
“Vin and I will talk about what’s coming up,” Porter said, “what he sees ahead, and we both realize that neither one of us has too many years left. He has not put any year on the end of his career; neither have I. And I’ve always said I never wanted to be the one to step into those shoes. I think the person who replaces Vin Scully has got a major problem. Like Gene Bartow replacing John Wooden.”
Those words would shock no one. But then Porter went on to share a less obvious scenario, yet one that would be remarkably poetic. It’s just a thought, lightly etched, but nonetheless a dramatic one for longtime fans of the Dodgers.
“I think in the back of my mind,” Porter said, “it would suit me wonderfully if Vin and I went out at the same time.”
The possibility would leave Rick Monday along in the booth and put the Dodgers in position of needing to replace not just their iconic voice - the face on their $1 bill - but the $5 as well.
But as Porter reiterated, at least that day isn’t right around the corner.
“Vin once told me, ‘I learned one thing in 1994 when we had the long strike, and that was, I couldn’t play golf every day. It’s just not within me to do that. I’ve got to be busy.’ So that keeps you going. The drive just keeps you going. The love of the game - I think it’s that simple.”
While Scully will continue with the reduced travel schedule he adopted years ago, Porter will remain a virtual full-timer. He pointed out that unlike Scully, it’s not really an option for him to cut back, explaining that it would require the Dodgers paying a fourth announcer in a cost-cutting era.
“The reaction would probably be, ‘Have a nice retirement,’ ” Porter said. “Vin can call his shots because he was the best that ever was, but I don’t know that many of us could do it.”
That being said, Porter doesn’t really seem to want to cut back. He doesn’t find life on the road any more difficult now than in years past.
“I think what happens is that you get into a routine,” Porter said. “You’re so used to this - this is the bus that’s gonna take you from the stadium to the tarmac to the plane ... I’ve done this so much that I’m used to it. Do I miss not being with my wife every day? Yes, but she’s been a jewel, and she’s glad to see me happy.
“I think that when I get ready to hang 'em up, it would be because I want to have more time with my family. We have a lot of grandchildren; most of them live in this area. We have a place in the desert; I like to play a lot of golf. It's been sensational (broadcasting), but I want to have a lot of time with my family before I can't do anything."
Like a Player, Hungry for the Postseason
Porter is certainly not thinking about leaving the Dodgers today. While heartbreaking losses like Wednesday's against Florida prove plenty can go wrong for the Dodgers in the season’s final 6 1/2 weeks, the fact is that they have their best look at the playoffs since their last appearance in 1996.
And Porter is no different from anyone else - he wants to see postseason action, even if it’s limited to a few innings a game on radio (with the possibility of no local telecasts, even Scully might be consigned to AM).
“Eight years is a long time (without reaching the playoffs),” Porter said, “and especially because when I broke in, it was unrealistic but the first two years I was with the team in ’77 and ’78 they won the pennant both years, then a two-year lapse, then in ’81 they won the whole thing.”
“I was on a plane once going back from New York with Dick Enberg. He had already left the Angels, but he said, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are. In nine years with the Angels I was never once involved in a playoff race in September.’
“It’s frustrating to me, just like everyone else, that the Dodgers have gone 16 years (without winning a World Series),” Porter added. “We all get spoiled.”
The fact that the 2004 Dodgers have found the hitting to contend has surprised Porter more than anything else this year. From the acquisition of Milton Bradley at the outset of the season to the difference Steve Finley has made since arriving at the end of July, with dramatically improved seasons from Adrian Beltre, Cesar Izturis, Alex Cora and solid contributions from departed Dodgers Paul Lo Duca and Dave Roberts, Porter really became struck by how much the team improved on offense.
And while the Dodger pitching does not quite match the 2003 version, it is more than holding its own considering that last year’s team was, according to Porter, as good as he had ever seen from top to bottom. Jeff Weaver epitomizes the surprises on the mound, Porter indicated.
“The reports were not good on Weaver out of Spring Training,” Porter said, “and when he starts 3-7, it doesn’t look good. But start after start, Jeff Weaver has probably had as many quality starts as anyone on the staff. ... (The pitching) is not as good as it was last year but not as bad as I thought it would be.”
With those pieces in place, according to Porter, the Dodgers could then ride two underrated team strengths into contender status - their defense and their manager - with a tip of the cap to the relative weakness of their division.
“I’ve said all year long, this is the best defense I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles,” Porter said. “And I’ve talked about it and Vinny agrees with me.
“And I don’t think (Dodger manager Jim) Tracy has gotten enough credit. I think he’s done a good job, and I think (general manager) Paul DePodesta has done a good job. When you think of Finley, Werth, Bradley and hopefully Brad Penny, he’s made some good moves.”
Perspective on Change
Porter stood in the visiting clubhouse in San Diego on the afternoon of July 30. Behind closed doors, Tracy, DePodesta and assistant general manager Kim Ng were meeting with Lo Duca.
“He comes out and immediately goes to his teammates and they start hugging and crying,” Porter recalled, adding that the same scene soon followed with Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion. “It was clearly a shaken clubhouse. You could see there was this ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ sort of thing.
“Two hours later, they go out and beat the Padres, 12-3. They couldn’t have been too shaken.”
Few in Los Angeles had the privilege of seeing how much Lo Duca contributed to the Dodgers the way Porter did. But Porter had little trouble understanding the trade that sent him and several teammates away from their first-place team.
“I always thought in April and May and June and July that they were one pitcher short,” Porter said. “So I was delighted that they got Penny. I was sorry to see Lo Duca go, sorry to see Mota go. But we all know in this business, if you want to get something good, you’ve got to give something good.
“I think after they got Finley and (Hee Seop) Choi and Penny on that Saturday, and they started coming in and started immediately contributing, I didn’t see any letup at all as far as the team was concerned and as far as the morale of the team was concerned: ‘Okay, we liked these guys but we’ve got the new guys now.' ”
Porter added that the groundwork for accepting all the change was laid when Finley contacted Bradley to see if he would move to left field so that Finley, a four-time Gold Glove winner, could remain in center. “I want to win,” according to Porter, was Bradley’s main reply.
“If Bradley had said ‘no,’ Finley would have rejected the trade and ended up in San Diego. The next day, (Padres manager) Bruce Bochy told me on the field, ‘Boy, we wanted Finley back in the worst way.’ ”
Interestingly, despite the negative reaction from many in Los Angeles and on national outlets like ESPN, Porter said that many broadcasters for other teams felt that the trading deadline moves made the Dodgers into a better team. Porter suspected that more and more people may “come around to that view,” though it may take a little longer with the current angst over the Dodger bullpen.
“I’m already wrong on one front,” Porter conceded. “I thought (Darren) Dreifort could step into Mota’s role and do a good job. Now he’s out.”
Humbled but Proud
Porter has been humbled before. At the start of his career, he relied so much on statistics that he drew significant criticism. While to some extent Porter is still the distaff brother in an Everyone Loves Vinny world, that criticism has softened for a number of reasons.
“I’ll give you my view on it,” Porter offered. “Somebody once said, ‘Statistics are the soul of baseball.’ I think that’s true. I think when I got started, that I leaned on them too much. ... I overdid it, I admit that. I think over the years I’ve cut back on that. I think over the years, I haven’t heard too much of that criticism. Yeah, occasionally somebody writes a letter to the editor. But the style has changed in baseball - you turn on a telecast and you’re gonna get a lot of numbers.”
Porter is intrigued by the more advanced statistics now available - he is a reader of this site and others that use them - but admitted he is not in a comfort zone with them. In any event, even in a climate more willing to embrace statistics, Porter remains wary of going overboard.
“I think I really believe now that it’s more prevalent than it ever has been,” Porter said, “but I’ve gone out of my way to cut back on (statistics) as much as I can. Some people e-mail or say to me, I sure appreciate you put the numbers out there. But I’ve also worked hard of late to try to tell more stories, and get a more personal view of the players in. It’s been an interesting 28-year ride, let me put it that way.”
The ride never got more interesting than just a few years ago, when nearly yearlong attempts to explain a persistent throat irritation Porter was experiencing culminated in an unimaginable diagnosis.
“First I had a four-hour sinus operation, to go up in there and clear some things out,” Porter said. “They found a quarter-sized hole over my brain, then I had a 10-hour brain surgery.
“I was in the hospital eight days. When I got out of the hospital, the Dodgers had been nice enough to put up a message that you can send Ross e-mail. The message was up for 13 days, and I got 1,300 e-mails from people, and that really kind of staggered me. And I think that gave me a greater appreciation of what I do and how many people love the Dodgers and want to see them do well, and kind of look to me as a member of the family. I think it makes me more grateful.”
So yes, like Vin Scully - if not with Vin Scully - someday Ross Porter will leave the Supreme Court of the Dodgers. But the job still has more than enough to offer him, and he still has more than enough to offer to the people.
Of all the people to beat Eric Gagne in the battle of Dodgers current and past, it's not Paul Lo Duca, it's Lenny Harris?
It never occurred to me I could ever see a ninth inning like I just saw.
Open Chat: Marlins-Dodgers (Wednesday)
Back to the Backstops
The Raindrops passes along word that the Dodgers have acquired a new right-handed-hitting catcher, Tom Wilson, in exchange for Tony Socarras, a move that may offer a small bit of aid to the beleaguered non-Lo Ducans.
Twenty-five year old catchers (like Socarras) who hit .205/.277/.305 in AA (right in line with his career minor league line of .198/.286/.346) have absolutely no shot whatsoever of having a useful major league career. The odds are pretty long on his having a useless major league career, though the odds increased slightly with this transaction.
Meanwhile, Tom Wilson put up a .322/.443/.591 in Norfolk this year, which is about what you should expect from a player whose career AAA numbers, in more than 1700 PAs, total .282/.394/.487. I know he's 33, but trading for youth for that end alone is foolish.
If nothing else, Wilson's addition to the roster, no doubt by September 1 at the latest, would allow Los Angeles to pinch-hit more freely for its catchers should they continue to underwhelm. (We probably won't see Jayson Werth and his not-so-spare rib behind the plate anytime soon.)
Appreciating Finley, Alvarez and Carrara
Perhaps they will come Wednesday, after Finley improved to 19 for 42 with six doubles, two home runs, 10 RBI, and averages of .452 batting, .500 on-base, .738 slugging and 1.238 OPS.
I've fallen in love with the changeup. How can you not adore the sight of an opposing batter lunging at a pitch that hasn't arrived yet? Alvarez has it down, and Giovanni Carrara threw a beauty to strike out Lo Duca in the eighth. Eric Gagne, of course, is a master.
Carrara, among others, has thrown more pitches and more innings than Gagne this month. I completely support the desire to protect Gagne, but this idea that he is this fragile flower needs to be nipped in the, you know, bud.
Meanwhile, racking up 27 strikeouts against five walks and 22 hits in 28 1/3 innings since returning to Los Angeles, with a 0.95 ERA and only two inherited runners allowed to score, Carrara is finally starting to convince me that he can be counted on. With Darren Dreifort joining pitchers Hideo Nomo, Edwin Jackson, Paul Shuey and Brad Penny on the disabled list (it's starting to become quite a number), Carrara becomes a key member of a bullpen that, believe it or not, retains no members other than Gagne of the 2003 pen that was one of the best in baseball history.
Fight or Flight
Anecdotally - and I can't emphasize enough that I haven't seen statistics to back it up - some readers of this site are indicating that Dodger Stadium may be becoming a more violent place.
Should the Dodgers be more proactive in preventing fights in the stands? Do they have an obligation to devote even more resources to security? Or are they doing as much as they reasonably can without turning the stadium into a police state?
Given that most of the fighting occurs in the reserved and bleacher sections, does this mean that the Dodgers are more protective of the season-ticket holding sections? Or are more single-game ticket purchasers simply not living up to reasonable standards of behavior?
Is baseball as a sport too dependent on beer, or should we confine blame to the humans rather than their drinks?
Or is Dodger Stadium violence a non-issue?
My sense is that there may be a decaying standard of behavior among some fans, and that the Dodgers may need to find more personnel to address the problem. But I welcome your thoughts. This is always my advice, but on this issue in particular, let me suggest in advance keeping the hyperbole to a minimum.
Postscript: Pete Marron was found guilty of first-degree murder Monday in the September 2003 shooting of 24-year-old Marc Antenocruz in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.
Open Chat: Marlins-Dodgers (Tuesday)
Mixed Review for Nomo
Dodger Thoughts reader Kevin Burns traveled to Sacramento and saw Hideo Nomo pitch Monday. He offers this report:
Pitched 3 innings. All from the stretch. Never went to the windup. First inning he looked pretty bad. The hits were all pretty much hit hard. He was fooling nobody. By the third inning, he looked pretty good. He was mixing his pitches pretty good and keeping the batters pretty off balance. A lot of weak swings in the third. The second inning was pretty much in the middle.
He hit 88-89 on the stadium radar gun four times. Twice in the first and his very last two pitches in the third. The two in the third had some giddy-up and pop. I would say that the rest of his pitches were evenly distributed between the 84 MPH range and 72 MPH range. Not sure really if those 72 MPH pitches were change-ups or breaking balls or what. He bounced a lot of the splitters well in front of the plate, leaving the catcher writhing in pain on at least two occasions. He came off the mound and fielded a bunt agilely.
Overall, decent performance. Looked pretty bad and very hittable in the first (used to seeing that) and looking pretty good come the third. I wish I knew a little more about the pitch selection to make an assumption about the fluctuating velocity.
If you want to compare this to an earlier Nomo start this season, click here.
Shawn Green out of the cleanup spot. Kazuhisa Ishii out of the rotation.
It's Darren Dreifort's turn.
Putting aside that Dreifort hit the nadir with a mixture of hitability and worm-killing wildness Monday, he just hasn't been right most of the year.
Per Paul DePodesta's philosophy, occasional adequacy is no longer sufficient for this team's ambitions. Alternatives must be pursued. And don't be fooled - Jim Tracy is ready.
Let's not get our hopes too high. Neither Yhency Brazoban, Giovanni Carrara or Duaner Sanchez are Frankie Rodriguez. But they're all better options at this point than Dreifort.
And we wait for Brad Penny, Edwin Jackson and maybe even Hideo Nomo to return, to domino the pitching staff back to strength.
Well the names haven't changed since you hung around
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Yeah we get teased a lot cause the trade put us on the spot
It's No Mendacity To Talk Tenacity
Disappointed but not discouraged was the tone I was prepared to take this afternoon. Two straight losses to a potential playoff opponent would be nothing to celebrate. But they were tight games, with perhaps the Dodgers' two most fallible starting pitchers (aside from Hideo Nomo) matched against two Chicago Cub aces - and therefore not indicative of how a postseason series might go.
Then came the comeback, from Mark Prior striking out the first four Dodgers to another derailment of the Cub bullpen and an 8-5 Los Angeles victory. To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, "There's nothing more powerful than the odor of tenacity."
This is a tenacious Dodger team. I don't offer that description as a character reference, though it may be apt. But rather, with that bullpen, that lineup and that bench, on a performance basis, there really isn't that much surrender to be found.
How did it happen? Better on the infield compared to 2003, better in the outfield, better on the bench.
I've been preparing for a swoon to come, fomenting in the middle relief and at catcher - a single loss quickly turning into five. But it hasn't come yet. Right now, this is not a team that gets buried for long.
Quietly, Another New Dodger
Mike Venafro, who took disabled pitcher Brad Penny's spot on the Dodger roster today, came to the organization last week in exchange for Jacksonville (AA) reliever Elvin Nina, who was second behind Yhency Brazoban in last month's Dodger Thoughts ranking of Dodger right-handed relief prospects.
Apparently, Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta wanted a lefty relief specialist to replace Tom Martin and Wilson Alvarez, who moved on to Atlanta and the Dodger starting rotation, respectively. Troy Brohawn was the best remaining in-house option, and he had an ERA of 4.90 in 75 1/3 innings at AAA Las Vegas. Interestingly, Venafro's statistics are not much different, with a 4.37 ERA compiled mostly in AAA Omaha, but Dodgers.com reports that Venafro, 31, held lefty batters in Omaha to a .211 batting average.
For his part, Nina had an ERA of 2.50 in 57 2/3 innings, with 62 strikeouts against 26 walks and 46 hits. Nina is 29, so it's not as if the Dodgers gave away a young pup. But it's not clear that they acquired a better pitcher, either.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Cubs (Sunday)
Eric Gagne: Setup Man
Of all the ailments to Darren Dreifort's major league reputation, being wild has never been one. But consider the following chart, which lists the all-time Los Angeles Dodger leaders in walks per nine innings in a season, with a minimum of 50 innings pitched:
BB/9 Year Player
Including today's performance against the Cubs, Ishii has improved to 5.19 walks per nine innings in 2004. However, Dreifort, who never previously broke the 5 barrier, is at 5.94.
As it happens, opponents are batting only .225 against Dreifort, which is very good. But because of the walks, each hit Dreifort allows has more potential magnitude for damage.
Since the Dodgers traded Guillermo Mota to Florida, the conversation around Dreifort has centered around whether he should retain the role as setup man for Eric Gagne. This obscures the question of whether Gagne should have a setup man at all at this point.
Is a mediocre setup man better than none?
If Gagne has at least one day of rest, what is the motivation to use anyone else in a close game in the eighth inning? The two-fold answer is fear: fear that the Dodgers will need Gagne fresh on the next day, and fear that Gagne will not be effective in the second inning. (With a token fold thrown to the usual people who would reflexively criticize the breaking of convention.)
Regarding the first point, there haven't been enough opportunities to prove that Gagne is ineffective the day after being used for two innings. Even more to the point, it much more rare than you would think that Gagne is ever needed on consecutive days.
Gagne has pitched in 50 games this season - less than half of the 115 the Dodgers have played. Several of those games have been in a mop-up role.
Gagne Pitching on Consecutive Days, 2004
To hold Gagne back on the chance that he will be needed in 24 hours is to bet against the odds. It happens less than once a week.
As for a dropoff in Gagne's second inning of work, that's certainly possible, depending especially on how difficult his first inning is. But the uncertainty of the dropoff is no worse than the uncertainty the Dodgers face when they bring in Dreifort. And there remains the possibility that, as happened Friday against the Cubs, the Dodgers could score enough runs in the ninth inning to eliminate the need for Gagne to pitch an extra frame.
Ironically, the Dodgers have already used the Gagne First scenario with success. In an extra-inning game August 1, Gagne pitched before Dreifort. Facing extraordinary pressure, Dreifort got the save. It was a save that came with only a few feet of a warning-track fly ball to spare, and one that was overshadowed by the three innings Gagne pitched in his longest relief outing in years. The lessons, however, were that the Dodgers were less likely to win if they held Gagne back from pitching until after Dreifort - Gagne might not have even gotten into the game before it was lost - and that Dreifort is Dreifort, whether it is the penultimate inning of the game or the final one.
Today in Chicago, down by two runs, the Dodgers loaded the bases with two out in the eighth inning. If you were Dodger manager Jim Tracy and you weren't restricted by batting order - if you had the choice to bat any Dodger in that situation, who would you choose? A mediocre hitter, on the premise that you might want your best player for the ninth inning? Me, I would choose the best possible Dodger. I would choose Adrian Beltre.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, it was Beltre's turn to bat. Regrettably, he was called out (dubiously) on a check-swing strike three. But at least the Dodgers had their best man up. In contrast, at Cincinnati on Thursday, the Dodgers had a lead in the eighth inning, their best pitcher available and rested, with only one inning pitched in the previous four days - and did not use him. Despite little doubt that he could have handled two innings, Gagne never got into the game.
If it were game 162 of the season and the Dodgers were tied for a playoff spot, would they hold back their best pitcher on the premise that they might need him for a tiebreaking 163rd game? Of course not. It doesn't make sense to leave your best weapons in Maybeland. It's too late in the season for the Dodgers to let Gagne watch and wonder in order to nurture Dreifort's confidence. Dreifort can certainly get people out - just not as often as Gagne. Should there really be such mental anguish over acknowledging a fact as obvious as the earth is round?
The thing is, I think Jim Tracy knows that there shouldn't be. I'm not really even second-guessing him. I just think he's temporarily trapped by this need to play to the general public, to massage Dreifort and to withhold from them the ammunition that would help characterize the trade of Mota as a mistake. Eventually, as he has with Ishii, with Eric Karros and with others, Tracy will probably make it a policy, instead of a rarity, to do what needs to be done. Reducing a player's role is not the same as eliminating it.
Sometimes, the best players fail. Sometimes, lesser players succeed. And the fact is, Dreifort has cost the Dodgers only two games this season. It's way too soon to have a heart attack about it, and I'm not having one. I'm just talking about playing the percentages, about being smart.
Perhaps Dreifort should be the Dodgers' alternate setup reliever. Perhaps it should be promising, albeit hittable, Yhency Brazoban. Perhaps it should be Wilson Alvarez, if the Dodgers get healthy in the starting rotation again.
But it should be clear that the Dodgers already have a first-string setup man, and his name is Eric Gagne.
Penny Lame is in My Ears and in My Eyes
So Brad Penny is probably going to miss more than one start after all ...
Will Carroll caught a lot of grief in the comments Monday for suggesting that Penny might be out for the season. He did apologize on Baseball Prospectus Tuesday for wrongful speculation about the Dodger medical personnel allowing Penny to throw a practice pitch after the problem appeared. Nevertheless, I did want to make a couple of points about Monday's discussion.
1) Enough with this "Carroll pretending to be a doctor" stuff. The guy has made it perfectly clear that he's not a doctor, but a medical reporter. To imply he professes otherwise is to set up a phony strawman to knock down. Obviously, if Carroll had had the ability to examine Penny himself, he'd have more information to go on. That being impossible, he used his sources and his observational skills, and describe what the likely scenario was. If he overestimated, it hardly renders him a poser.
2) People were awful quick to jump to the conclusion that Carroll did overestimate Penny's recovery time, taking on faith the word of a Dodger staff that told us in April that Hideo Nomo and Shawn Green, among others, would be just fine.
Of course, it does look as if Penny will pitch for the Dodgers again this season, and Dodger fans can be happy about that. But there still isn't any reporter whose opinion of a ballplayer's medical condition I value more than Carroll's.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Cubs
First at Second
Team OPS at Second Base, 2004
1. Los Angeles, .889
Dodger second basemen Alex Cora, Jose Hernandez and Joe Thurston are batting .313, on-baseing .406 and slugging .482, with 14 home runs and seven errors.
So Many Nights, I Sit By My Window ...
Flipping channels while trying to stay awake during a 4 a.m. feeding today, my wife and I came upon the finish to the 1977 movie that brought Debby Boone's famous song to cinematic life, You Light Up My Life.
This was the movie that tried to convince the world that gulpy-voiced Didi "Beauty School Dropout" Cohn could sing like Pat Boone's daughter, and even as a child seeing the movie in the theaters when it came out, I was aware of the dissonance. Encountering it now for the first time since, I was struck even more by the fact that the movie was, well, psychotic.
You Light Up My Life reaches its climax with a scene of interminable psychodrama in which Cohn's character, Laurie Robinson, has a near-clinical meltdown, complete with flashbacks, while performing a ventriloquist act before a group of children. Laurie then dashes in tears backstage, where her father, Sy, who in Gypsy-like fashion apparently pressured her into ventriloquism in the first place, tells her not to worry and that she'll do just fine next time. "It was your timing," Sy says. "Your timing was off."
In another scene of remarkable length, Laurie desperately tries to convince her father that it's not about her timing, that maybe, just maybe, there might be something more for her in life than ventriloquism. She might as well have been trying to convince Sy that Vaudeville was dead, so astonished was he. After all, it was only 1977.
Watching Laurie trying to make her case, I couldn't help wondering, is this how Paul DePodesta feels?
Eventually, the scene ends, with Laurie having received her father's reluctant approval to take the lucrative singing contract that has been offered to her. About 60 seconds later, Laurie has driven to New York, her performance of You Light Up My Life has risen to the top of the Billboard charts, and the film ends. Roll credits.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Reds (Wednesday and Thursday)
Four-Wheelin' on the Road
Hadn't quite focused on just how immediately rough the Dodger schedule was getting, with 19 of the next 26 games away from home, culminating in red-hot and humid St. Louis. Nice for the Dodgers to start with an almost no-contest victory Tuesday, but we're going to have to adjust our expectations for success during this stretch after watching the team win 25 of its previous 33.
A "Less Dodgers, More L.A." Question
Even if they build the next seven wonders of the world in downtown Los Angeles, how much traffic would you be willing to brave to get there?
Stories like this about the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles always seem to ignore the issue of transporting people into the bottleneck at the city's heart. Everyone talks about attracting more people to downtown, but no one seems to talk about how the attracted will get there.
Is this because there is an expectation that mixed-use development and hotels will attract people to live and vacation downtown, eliminating the need for them to come and go? Or is the media just overlooking the transportation issue?
As for a Dodger connection ... it's easy enough to see that dollars devoted to easing transit to and from Dodger Stadium would encourage people to come more often. But beyond that occasional Union Station shuttlebus - the height of convenience, I'm sure - you don't hear word one about improvement.
Paging Bob Timmermann ...
10 of 10
When Jayson Werth reached 10 home runs Saturday against the Phillies, it set off a quest in these parts to find the most surprising seasons of double-digit homers in Los Angeles Dodger history. Here's the countdown:
10. Marquis Grissom, 2001 - 21 A borderline selection, considering that Grissom came to the Dodgers in '01 with no less than nine consecutive seasons of 10 homers or more. Having been acquired for the declining Devon White, however, few expected anything more than a washed-up player.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Reds (Tuesday)
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
If Odalis Perez leaves his start Saturday writhing in agony, the trade for Brad Penny is looking pretty savioriffic.
Instead, it's Penny who runs off the mound Sunday like his arm was caught in a grease fire, and life in Dodgertown takes on a whole new meaning, pending the diagnosis.
The twin scenarios illustrate both the rationale and the risk behind the acquisition of Penny. Was Penny an injury risk? Perhaps, but you can't ask that question without asking the same about Perez. Both have had a history of arm troubles - Perez as recently as a month ago. A more proper question would address the relativity of the risk among the pitchers.
Today, the Dodgers have eight starting pitchers on their 25-man roster and disabled list, with immediate questions surrounding half: Penny, Edwin Jackson, Hideo Nomo and Kazuhisa Ishii (who had been demoted less than 24 hours before Penny's injury), not to mention lingering concerns about the long-term health of Perez and the long-term viability of Wilson Alvarez, Jose Lima - and what the hell, Jeff Weaver, too.
While many will find Penny's early departure Sunday adding injury to the insult of the Paul Lo Duca trade, I don't think it requires too convoluted a journey, as bizarre as it sounds, to conclude that Penny's injury justifies his acquisition. The Dodgers have been playing well, but their starting pitching is like strapping tape, nearly impossible to tear - until it is punctured, that is.
Depending on how long we must wait for Penny to recover, the ability for displaced starters Jackson, Nomo and Ishii to pitch effectively, which two days ago was considered gravy, now becomes the meat. And unless you're really willing to place your faith in Giovanni Carrara as a starter, then the acquisition of another starting pitcher, either from the Dodger minor league system or from another team, once more becomes a potential need.
Optimistically, Ishii still has enough brilliance amid his fluctuating performance levels to bridge the cap between now and a Jackson, Nomo or Penny recovery. Dodger manager Jim Tracy was correct in stating Saturday that the Dodgers had five starting pitchers more worthy of pennant race participation than Ishii. However, just because Ishii was No. 6 does not mean he is hopeless.
But the ride isn't done being rocky, is it?
Update: From Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus:
One of the best indications of the severity of an injury is the player's initial reaction. Dodgers fans were very worried when Brad Penny pulled up in the first inning yesterday, grabbing at his right bicep. After a quick talk with the assistant trainer and pitching coach, Penny threw another pitch, grabbed at his arm again and nearly ran from the field. Some reports have him screaming or groaning. It looked bad, and no, I'm not sure what the trainer was thinking by allowing him to throw.
The diagnosis, to be confirmed today by an MRI, is a severe strain of the biceps. While the injury looked to be a shoulder injury or even a ruptured biceps tendon, the strain is not nearly that dire. The MRI and Penny's response to treatment will dictate his timeframe for return, but missing the rest of the season sounds likely. One of the more interesting aspects of the story is Penny's denial that a 2002 DL stint was biceps-related. Described as a "right biceps inflammation," it fits in the pattern of Penny, known for his toughness, denying any injury despite evidence to the contrary. This will surely affect how people perceive the recent Dodgers/Marlins trade, but any trade carries a measure of injury risk.
Paul DePodesta's trades really haven't been going the Dodgers' way so far. The game of baseball has its own interesting ways of making us remember that phrase about the best-laid plans. Steve Finley is dealing with his normal sore hamstrings, so the Dodgers are smartly giving him a chance to rest up as they have a nice cushion in the standings. There's little to be concerned about; in fact, the intelligent usage and rest actually improves his chances of being useful over the last two months of the season and into the playoffs
At the 2/3 Mark: You've Got To Admit, They're Getting Better
For the first half of the season, the Dodgers were more mediocre than good.
2004 Dodger Record
Now the team is good - smack in the territory between mediocre and great.
Lo Duca is OPSing 1.490 in five games with Florida, meaning that it'll be about a week before it's mathematically possible for him to swoon. Ross has struck out 39 times with three home runs to show for it. With Mayne, the Dodgers have their weakest offense at catcher since perhaps the Steve Yeager era.
Compared to 2003, Izturis is showing a nearly 25-percent improvement in OPS. Doesn't the lineup slot controversy for Green seem like ancient history now? Beltre has a 1.044 OPS as the cleanup hitter. Cora and Hernandez lead the team in on-base percentage and have 16 home runs between them. Despite over-the-hill numbers, Ventura has positioned himself for some minutes on any 2004 Dodger highlight video with three memorable game-winning hits. Saenz may sneak in there too, while Thurston and Chen have been written out of the script. Expect good things from Choi, who quietly begins his Dodger career with two doubles.
Boy, has Bradley come on. While Beltre channels Kirk Gibson's gimpy MVP-hood, Bradley channels the fire - and is OPSing .954 since the All-Star break. Encarnacion snuck in 251 outs in his brief Dodger career. Roberts leaves a Dodger folk hero, 2 1/2 years after entering Spring Training as the No. 4 candidate to play center field. Grabowski leads the Dodgers with 10 pinch hits and four pinch walks. Werth is the same age as Beltre and almost as good a hitter. Dare to dream of the possibilities if Werth could catch as well as say, Mike Piazza. Finley starts out with fire in his bat and his hamstring. Where is the weak spot in an outfield-first base rotation of Finley, Bradley, Werth, Choi and Green? Is it Green? Doesn't matter - it's a rich group. A year ago, the Dodgers were throwing out Jeromy Burnitz, Jolbert Cabrera, Wilkin Ruan, Ron Coomer, Daryle Ward, Mike Kinkade, Larry Barnes ...
Starting Pitchers (6)
Penny won't pitch shutout ball all year, but at least showed the Los Angeles media that he existed. Colorado has scored 10 of the 44 earned runs Perez has allowed. After all the Spring Training pressure, Jackson is free to heal and blow away hitters in September. Weaver (25.5 VORP) has simply been more valuable on his own than Kevin Brown (23.9) this season. The style of Ishii dictates his inconsistency, and it's a question whether he would be on a playoff roster. The fact that Nomo was allowed to pitch hurt for so long remains one of the biggest mysteries of this Dodger season.
Alvarez is showing his setup man potential. I've been skeptical of Lima all year - not out of any malice, I can assure you - but what can you say, he has delivered.
Y-Braz? Brazoban may get a chance to be an October hero against the team that traded him, the Yankees. It'll be interesting to see if he leapfrogs Sanchez, among others. Myers continues to show improvement over his 2003 season. In his Grover Cleveland-esque second term in Los Angeles, Carrara has been better than ever. The strikeout numbers of Gagne and Dreifort really dwarf those of Mota. Dreifort is almost like a Nuke La Loosh character when you factor in his nearly six walks per nine innings. Coincidence that Paul Shuey's Dodger career ends (with surgery) just days before Martin is shown the door? Falkenborg probably will not make the highlight video.
The Think Blue All-Star Summertime Variety Revue Power Hour, July 11
One after another, the Dodger problems have been solved. While by no means a flawless team, while the regular season remains very much in doubt, a team that many thought might be eliminated from its race before Dennis Kucinich is instead contemplating a World Series candidacy.
Entering the season's final third, the biggest issues for the Dodgers are as simple and tantalizing as this: integrate the new personnel, heal some of the old, and try to keep everyone playing as well as they have been playing. And hope like hell that Adrian Beltre's extremities hold up.
There aren't five players with better MVP platforms than Adrian Beltre. And there aren't five teams with better World Series platforms than the Dodgers.
Open Chat: Phillies-Dodgers
The Joy of Six (And a Half)
One of the ongoing themes in the Dodger Thoughts coverage of this streaky season has been savoring the moment, no matter what the next moment might bring. I'd call it smelling the roses, except I don't really put together roses with baseball. Winning baseball is more like ice cream.
For those of us who have been stuck on a low-cholesterol diet, a 6 1/2-game lead just tastes so sweet on the tongue, doesn't it?
Decisions vs. Dollars
Should the 2004 regular season end as it stands now - and there's no guarantee that it will - with the Dodgers in the playoffs and the Angels out of it, some writers might be tempted to pen little morality plays: that you don't need to make a huge splash with big contracts to win.
They will be nice compliments to the morality plays written this spring, which dramatized that you don't win by standing on the sidelines.
Both plays will be correct in their ways, and both will be beside the point. What's most important is this: Every decision a team makes should be to make use of its resources in a way that best improves its odds of winning.
The italicized word is, not surprisingly, the key. You can make all the right decisions and still get none of the right results, and vers-vicea.
There were some decisions that the Angels made in the spring that weren't high-odds decisions, such as signing Bartolo Colon to a rich, long-term contract. Chance of reward there, but the risk/reward ratio wasn't ideal. For the Dodgers' part, one can fairly say even without the benefit of hindsight that an investment in Vladimir Guerrero, even with the subsequent emergence of other stars like Adrian Beltre, was a risk worth taking.
The dollars you spend are only relevant to the extent that they affect your ability to spend on your next decision. You can win games spending oodles or spending noodles. The important lesson is to make the most out of every decision - and to understand that the outcome may not do justice to the decision, rightly or wrongly.
Open Chat: Pirates-Dodgers
Tramps Like Us ...
... baby we were born ... today!
Pleased to report that our second child, a boy, was born at 7:36 a.m., one day before his due date, healthy, and as far as I can tell, happy that he enters the world with his team in first place. He is 21 1/4 inches long and a surprisingly sturdy 8 pounds, 13 ounces. Mom got no sleep but seems in relatively great shape.
Sorry that I won't be sharing the name - we just have some privacy concerns, however paranoid or futile, about posting our kids' names on the Internet. But it's a good one.
As you can imagine, I hope the Dodgers are done with newsbreaking events for a while. I don't have a posting schedule planned for Dodger Thoughts, but I'll do the best I can. In the meantime, stay cool.
In the March 10 National League West roundtable discussion on All-Baseball.com, I wrote:
In the same discussion, I picked Arizona to win the division.
By the way, check out the overall recaps of Trade Deadline Weekend on All-Baseball.com and The Transaction Guy.
BP on BP
Ben Platt of Dodgers.com reports that starting Tuesday, the Dodgers are opening the gates at 5:10 p.m. so that fans can attend batting practice. I was under the impression that this was long the case, but apparently not. Oh that I had the time to attend - but good for those of you who can.
Platt also discusses how much trouble Dodgers.com has had with rude and profane posters. Obviously, Dodger Thoughts gets a fingernail's worth of the traffic that the official Dodger site gets, but let me say how happy I am that on this site's busiest weekend ever, personal attacks and tempers and profanity remained 99 percent in check - and that when someone did go a little overboard, everyone was calm enough to dial it back on their own. Once again, you prove to be some of the finest people around. Thanks.
An Even-Handed L.A. Sports Columnist on the Dodgers
Does any local newspaper reporter write higher-quality stuff about the Dodgers than Kevin Modesti of the Daily News?
From today's paper:
There was an edgy little debate among Jim Tracy and the sportswriters in his office Sunday morning about whether the Dodgers manager should have brought in Eric Gagne to rescue Darren Dreifort from the Padres' eighth-inning rally the night before, notwithstanding the team's wish to see the bullpen's post-shakeup set-up man pass his first test. That is, whether Tracy should have managed as desperately as if it was a pennant-race, stretch-run, must-win game. Silly, because everybody knows they don't play must-win games on July 31.
Aug. 1, now that's another story. ...
From Sunday's paper (apologies to the Daily News for the long excerpt, but he deserves the exposure):
... The minuses in all this are the potential dilution of the clubhouse chemistry with the loss of the popular Lo Duca, though for all of the talk about his heart-and-soul role in the clubhouse, it's hard to say the Dodgers can't win without a player they never won with; the weakening of the catcher position with Lo Duca replaced by David Ross and Mayne and the reworking of an effective bullpen pecking order with eighth-inning fixture Mota replaced with Darren Dreifort.
The last of those was on display Saturday when Dreifort let the Padres come from behind to win by scoring two runs in an eighth-inning rally that included a broken-bat single by Terrance Long and a 30-foot single by Phil Nevin but also a four-pitch walk to Sean Burroughs.
The pluses, the Dodgers hope, are a stronger top of the starting rotation with Penny, winner of two decisions in the World Series last fall; a potentially more powerful batting order with the young Choi and the veteran Finley; upgrades since spring training in center field (Finley over Roberts), left (Milton Bradley and Jayson Werth over Encarnacion) and first base (Choi over Robin Ventura); the deepest stable of left-handed hitters in the club's recent history; and the sort of mix-and-match versatility that Tracy seems to covet more than any other manager.
Most managers love the idea of a set, everyday lineup. Tracy has three-fifths of that. Finley in center, Adrian Beltre at third base and Cesar Izturis at shortstop will be at their posts every day. Remarkably, every other position is up for daily changes, subject mostly to the identity of the opposing pitcher.
Depending on whether it's a righty or a lefty, Tracy likely would use Mayne or Ross at catcher, Choi or Green at first, Cora or Jose Hernandez at second, Bradley or Werth in left, and Green or Bradley in right. Other variables could be at work from night to night, though. The manager also has Ventura, Jason Grabowski and Olmedo Saenz to blend in.
"I've not had a lineup that has that much offensive capability to it," Tracy said in extolling the trades.
It won't be enough for the Dodgers to make it to October for the first time since 1996. They have to make themselves heard in October for the first time since Kirk Gibson.
"Paul's (DePodesta) got plans to not only win the division but make some noise in the playoffs," Roberts said on his way out the door.
Tracy is in the final year of his contract. His Dodgers have been close before in August. In the past he could blame their failures on holes in the lineup or pitching staff or the cumulative effects of season-long injury problems.
The front office has handed him no such excuses this time.
He has a first-place team that just got better. He has a chance to show off his lineup-tinkering skills every day. For a good-guy manager with something to prove, the future is a simple matter of go-out-there-and-win.
In other words, Don't mess it up.
Despite the Alvarez-Lima Trade, Better Depth for a Playoff Run
Did anyone else notice this weekend that the Dodgers traded a No. 4 starting pitcher (if not better) for a No. 5?
Personally, I haven't seen any commentary on the difference between replacing Wilson Alvarez instead of Jose Lima with Brad Penny in the Dodger starting rotation.
DERA = Defense-Independent ERA
Somewhat oddly, Penny's ERA is lower than that of Alvarez despite allowing more hits and walks and striking out fewer batters per nine innings. The apparent reason: Penny allows home runs barely half as often. However, because he has allowed 32 doubles to Alvarez's 10, Penny still has a higher slugging percentage allowed than Alvarez, .386 to .357. Lima is at .462. (Side note: Penny's numbers may well improve with more games at Dodger Stadium and with more games backed by the superb Dodger defense.)
In any case, the difference between Penny and Alvarez is much less than the difference between Penny and Lima. So while the Dodger bullpen may be in better hands than people fear (especially if manager Jim Tracy makes liberal use of Alvarez as an additional set-up reliever, rather than as a situational reliver like Tom Martin, and if Yhency Brazoban fulfills his promise), the improvement to the Dodger starting rotation for the remainder of the regular season may not truly be what people are counting on.
However, Penny could make a considerable difference if Lima falters and Tracy puts Alvarez back in the rotation. It's actually a win-win situation - either Lima pitches well, or Alvarez can replace him. Penny is strong insurance against Lima's luck running out. The problem scenario is if Lima is ineffective but just barely good enough to stay in the rotation, while Alvarez withers from lack of use as a reliever.
Further, Penny could be a valuable asset both in the playoffs and in the event of another injury to a Dodger starting pitcher. If the Dodgers reach October, not only does No. 5 starter Lima automatically become a long reliever, but so might now-No. 4 starter Kazuhisa Ishii. With his propensity to be wild, Ishii is probably the Dodger pitcher least prepared for the postseason stage. The acquisition of Penny allows Jim Tracy the luxury of using a quick hook on Ishii, assuming he uses Ishii at all, because Alvarez or Lima can now be waiting in the wings, rather than expected to take their own turn in the playoff rotation.
Furthermore, should an injury strike the ever-vulnerable Odalis Perez, Penny leaves the Dodgers much readier to cope. In general, Penny really does revitalize the Dodger chances of having a championship starting rotation.
Paul DePodesta's mentor, Billy Beane, may believe that the playoffs are a crapshoot, but DePodesta made Friday's trade for Penny so that the Dodgers' odds in that crapshoot would be more favorable. People forget that in the mid-1990s, before Mike Piazza was traded, that people weren't satisfied for the Dodgers to simply make the playoffs - everyone wanted October wins. Now, it's been so long since the team has even played a playoff game that many have forgotten that the playoffs require something extra.
In questioning why DePodesta would make dramatic moves to a team that is already winning its division, some have forgotten that a division title is not the ultimate goal. If Jim Tracy takes full advantage of the depth provided him everywhere but catcher, including the bullpen (almost every major-league team would still trade their bullpen for the Dodgers'), the various reservations that people, including me, have over this weekend's trades may fade behind October glory.
And the thing is, although Tracy does not always get it right, he has proven to be a manager who learns from many of his mistakes. There really is reason for Dodger fans to be optimistic, no matter how lamented the departure of some Dodger heroes.
P.S. Thanks to those who reminded me in the comments of Sunday's posting that VORP is cumulative and playing-time sensitive.
Open Chat: Dodgers-Padres (Sunday)
Thinking It Through
The divided but passionate reaction to Frank McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers erased any doubt about how much Dodger fans care about their team. But the past two days have been positively manic.
* * *
The Dodgers on August 1
* * *
Over the past two days, the Dodgers have improved themselves in the following ways:
1) Their previously average starting rotation is now better.
The Dodgers have weakened themselves in the following ways:
1) No matter what kind of tailspin Paul Lo Duca might have over the final two months, he figured to be more valuable than Dave Ross and Brent Mayne.
Bases per Plate Apperance
3) They have lost setup man Guillermo Mota.
* * *
There are a few things I want to say before I continue.
One, VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which many fine writers like John Weibe and Robert Tagorda have been using to show that the Dodgers have won this weekend's trades, is not an evil invention from the Nerd Empire, but rather a combination of statistics the most neophyte baseball fan is familiar with. Statistics like ... hits. Runs. Outs. You don't know how it's calculated, and neither do I. But if you dismiss its value, you're dismissing the value of any and all statistics. And I don't think even the most spiritual baseball fan has any great need or desire to do that. After all, .406 and 755 are spiritual even though they're just numbers, aren't they?
Second, the 1988 Dodgers were nothing if not a team of heart and moxie. They were also a team with a superstar pitcher on the hottest streak baseball had ever seen. Take away Orel Hershiser, and the Dodgers don't see Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, much less the National League Championship Series. You don't win on heart and moxie unless there's talent backing it up.
Third, the value of a trade is affected by a manager's use of the personnel. For example, the impact of losing Mota might be better mitigated if Dodger manager Jim Tracy uses Wilson Alvarez or Eric Gagne in the eighth inning Saturday. (I'm not picking on Tracy tonight - you can make a case that Dreifort needed to have his shot. Just making a point.)
* * *
I have spent the past two days discussing the trades with my brother and father, neither of whom understand the moves. I've been explaining where DePodesta is coming from. They weren't familiar with how good Penny and Choi have been this season or how much potential they have. I'm reminding them that Lo Duca is 32 and entering the decline phase of his career, that the value of a Mota pitching four innings each week isn't equivalent to the value of a Penny pitching 7 to 14 innings each week.
It hasn't been hard to convey the value of ridding ourselves of Martin and Encarnacion, two players signed to contracts that pay them for perceived value rather than actual value.
Now, my family is now open-minded about Penny and Choi. Choi is a great pickup that will help the team this year and beyond. Again, in the Dodger lineup, substituting Choi for Encarnacion (even with Green making a slight step backward defensively to right field) is a positive.
At the same time, I've been struggling with the transactions more than you might expect - and it's because of Lo Duca.
It's not the "heart and soul" argument. I do feel the emotional impact of losing Lo Duca - truly, madly, deeply - but I looked at that Dodger team tonight, and they're going to be fine carrying Lo Duca in their hearts. And eventually, so will we.
It's just such a glaring hole at catcher. Whatever you thought of the Dodger starting pitching, there wasn't this huge crevice of performance that you were staring at. But when you look behind the plate, the void represented by the disappointing Dave Ross and the newly acquired Brent Mayne is huge.
Then, I went back to VORP. Essentially, given the choice between a starting battery of Wilson Alvarez (20.3 VORP) and Paul Lo Duca (22.3) or Brad Penny (33.3) and Dave Ross (-2.4), I'm actually going to take Alvarez and Lo Duca. With the stats to back me up.
Overall, the Dodgers have won the trades on paper. They have acquired more talent than they have given up. But I'm not sure I'm going to argue in favor of the trades any more, because I'm not sure that they've won the trades by enough.
There's no law, is there, that says I have to decide in advance whether these trades were good or not. I know it seems like there's such a law - in fact, it feels like it must be in the Constitution, the imperative is so strong. But I checked the books and it doesn't exist.
The remaining pre-trade Dodgers may render the trades unnecessary. Or absolutely necessary. I'm not convinced either way.
I am officially taking the position of wait and see, with hopes for the best. You may think it a cop-out, but I've given it a lot of thought and I find this to be the strongest position I could take.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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