Monthly archives: June 2005
The Fake Game - Play Ball!
Weather permitting. Forecast is for clear skies with 10 percent chance of snow.
Update: It was a most memorable day and evening of fake baseball ...
There's no conclusive evidence to indicate what modified the synapse that encouraged the speedy, sharp-hitting Antonio Perez to bunt with two runners on and none out in Wednesday's game - it could have been Mom and Dad, video games, childhood coaching or gremlins as much as it could have been the patterns of Dodger manager Jim Tracy - but good on Tracy for getting Perez to swing.
The Dodger manager has been criticized for calling for too many bunts and Perez who is batting .328 has failed to execute the play more than once. Perez tried to bunt on his own but Tracy wanted the hot-hitting infielder to drive the ball.
"I yelled at Lett, 'What's he doing?' " Tracy said.
The coach made Tracy's intentions clear to Perez, who moments later was pumping his fist in the air as the ball cleared the center-field fence.
"I thought I'd move the runners," Perez said. "They want me to swing, so that's fine. I love to swing."
Has there been anyone else criticizing Tracy for bunting too often besides many of the people who gather here (fellow bloggers included)?
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Ross and David Newhan are profiled in a lovely piece in this week's Sports Illustrated by Bruce Schonefeld.
... It is 1983. A sportswriter's nine-year-old can still pull on a pair of spikes and take infield with the players' kids, and nobody will think to complain. In some ways a beat writer is an auxiliary member of the team he covers, bound to it by the desultory rhtyhms of the season. Players can be considered friends. When David's parents married in 1968 - in January, so no games would be missed - half the ball club Ross was covering attended. "I have been officiating at this temple for many years," the rabbi intoned, "and this is the first time I've felt truly surrounded by Angels."
Nomonia, Ten Years Later
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He finished the month with 50 strikeouts in his final four games - breaking Sandy Koufax's team record - and two consecutive 13-strikeout shutouts.
For those of you who can't remember or fathom how Nomonia got started, this kinda helped.
(Actually, they called it Nomomania, but I could never understand why they weren't clever enough to call it Nomonia.)
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And he's 3 for 4 with four walks, and he's making running catches in center field.
So for those commenters who decided Drew had no heart or leadership skills because he went from unable to pinch hit Sunday to 100 percent Monday, guess what. That's not what happened.
According to the Daily News, with a day game today following a night game, Drew may need to rest again. Why? Because he has been playing hurt.
Drew might not have been blessed with the greatest body tissue or most lively personality, but it's hard to conclude that the guy isn't here to play.
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I care less about dropping slumping Cesar Izturis from the leadoff spot than I care about knowing why Jim Tracy, who never met a maneuver he didn't like, doesn't seem to care to.
In other words, Izturis' slump plays into the Dodger slump, but I don't think his batting slot does. For 8 2/3 innings, he's the No. 9 hitter in the lineup.
But considering that Izturis was a borderline choice to bat leadoff way back when, I'm dispassionately interested in why Tracy hasn't budged him from the top. (I doubt Tracy has any interest in artificially boosting Izturis' trade value; he'd probably weep if Izturis went away.)
It wouldn't shock me to see Tracy drop Izturis down if the slump continues once the calendar turns to July. He's almost waited as long on dropping Izturis as he waited to drop Shawn Green in 2004.
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Update: Izturis leads off, Drew bats third, Saenz fifth, Ross seventh and Rose eighth in today's lineup. Choi sits.
If You Have a Guerrero, Throw It to the Sky
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Tonight (correction: Wednesday) brings the 15th anniversary of Fernando Valenzuela's no-hitter, which I was fortunate enough to attend and am thrilled to relive in my mind again.
The final out of that game was made by ex-Valenzuela teammate Pedro Guerrero, almost exactly five years after Guerrero's most incredible feat.
Before it was too late, I wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Guerrero's extraordinary 15-homer June, which at the time was a record for the month.
Guerrero homered on the first day of June and never went more than four games without a homer for the remainder of the month. He had four homers after nine days, then hit five in the next four days. Soon after, he hit five in a seven-game stretch to bring him to 14 for June.
He waited until his final at-bat of the month to set the record. It was a day game against Atlanta. With the Dodgers trailing the Braves, 3-2, Guerrero launched a game-winning two-run blast to win the game and achieve, well, not immortality, but delayed mortality.
Guerrero followed up this feat the next month by reaching base 14 consecutive times:
The streak ended July 27 with a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat.
The guy was just an awesome hitter. Oh, and Fernando was an awesome pitcher.
I'd like to call attention to some of the great work that Dodger Thoughts reader Doug Fearing has been volunteering in the comments.
Most recently, Fearing has taken to evaluating the 2004-05 free agent signings using their salaries measured against their 2005 WARP - another Baseball Prospectus statistic, defined as "the number of wins this player contributed, above what a replacement level hitter, fielder, and pitcher would have done, with adjustments only for within the season."
Here is Fearing's list of which signings have been the best bargains so far. The research is his, the comments are mine:
Jeff Kent has been the most productive free agent position player, and has therefore made himself into a relative bargain. J.D. Drew is in the middle. Omar Vizquel has been the top bargain, though he is also the oldest player signed to a three-year deal, so look out for a drop. No. 2 bargain Placido Polanco has already been traded, to Detroit. Note that Carlos Beltran has been a bigger disappointment than Adrian Beltre - not only in value, but in production (based in part on Beltre playing a more difficult position to fill).
On the pitching, even though the contracts tend to be more modest, the WARP costs get higher more rapidly than with the hitters. Just about everyone had to overpay for pitching. Esteban Loaiza is this year's prize, while for the same price, Jose Lima is this year's dud. Derek Lowe is in the middle, while Odalis Perez is near the bottom. Matt Clement, prized by many of us in Los Angeles but apparently unwilling to play on the West Coast, has been the best multi-year signing. And isn't it amazing about Roger Clemens?
Next to the Mets, the Dodgers put the most money on the table toward free agents. They've gotten by far the most production from their free agents, and are 12th in efficiency. Note that surprise playoff contender Washington has gotten great value - but right behind them is San Francisco, which needed to get a little more in-house production, say, from left field. San Diego, leading the National League West, didn't play the game at all.
Farewell, Mr. Peterson
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Dodgers.com hosts an online chat with Cesar Izturis at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
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This post is dedicated to John Fiedler, one of those character actors who could play the common man (or pig) and yet be so unique. His first major film role was as Juror #2 in Twelve Angry Men, which of course you need to see to call yourself a citizen. Perhaps his most memorable role, outside of Piglet, was on The Bob Newhart Show as Mr. Peterson. Anyways, I liked him.
Sunlight on a Sunday Evening
Is there any point in me saying the Dodgers aren't this bad?
Of course, they are this bad. They are what their record is, which is 35-40, a 76-win pace for the season. Their roster looks like this. Humpty Dumpty had an easier put-back.
Strangely, during their 9-14 June, the Dodgers have outhomered the opposition, 27-21. They have outwalked them, and have only three fewer hits. In OPS, they trail their opponents by only .715 to .705.
Nevertheless, the Dodgers have been outscored, 102-80. Almost exactly one run per game. And one run is all it takes for the knife to cut an arm here and a leg there.
A month ago, when allowing home runs was epidemic for Dodger pitchers, I wrote that the team needed to acquire better starting pitching, because the only other solution was to stop allowing home runs. And that seemed too wildly hopeful.
And yet the person who didn't believe this could happen is the same person who has been telling you (in the name of the flawed but talented Hee Seop Choi) that baseball is a game of adjustments. The Dodger pitching staff is not a Hall of Fame staff, but it was a more talented group than it had shown in May. I should have had more faith that the pitchers would find some sort of equilibrium - nothing fancy, to be sure, but something approximating the 4.08 ERA they have shown in June.
It's helped, of course, that Jim Tracy has had the restraint to keep Scott Erickson off the mound for all but 2 2/3 innings. But in general, pitchers have pitched closer to their capabilities, and that has made a difference. A forseeable difference that I did not forsee.
Now, it's the offense that isn't getting the job done. They are getting on base as much as their opponents and they are slugging as much as their opponents, but they're not generating the runs. I'd like to offer that it's forseeable - even likely - that this will change for the better. Which is not to deny that Antonio Perez's average might not fall below .300, and so on, but to accept that 1) players like Cesar Izturis (batting .114 in June) will find their modest levels again and 2) a failure to hit with runners in scoring position is not a permanent condition.
This does not presume, by the way, that Milton Bradley will be playing anytime soon. But if he does come back, that would only help.
In any case, the Dodgers have dug themselves a healthy hole. They are walking around in the cruel shoes. The offensive rebound might come too late to help. Or, it might coincide with another pitching slump, rendering the season completely out of sync. As I wrote last week, the Dodgers' margin for error is gone. For the playoffs to come in 2005, things have to start going right, right now.
So is there any point in me saying the Dodgers aren't this bad? Saying the Dodgers aren't this bad is not the same as saying that they will recover. Two very different things. And only the second one is relevant.
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The theory, which most people have come to know by now, is that the general manager spends the first two months of the season evaluating the team, the second two months trying to improve it, and the final two months in a sprint for the title.
However, because the wild card keeps so many teams alive in the playoff hunt for so long, the reality is that even if you know exactly what your problems are on June 1 (and keep in mind, the Dodger problems have changed since then), there isn't much you can do about it. The reality is that you basically spend four months with the team you take out of Spring Training, and two months with the post-trade-deadline, fuel-injected crew.
The number of trades that have been made since Opening Day in the entire major leagues could probably be counted on one hand, and it figures to remain that way through at least the All-Star break. It's not any kind of defense of DePodesta's or Frank McCourt to say that it's not their fault right now. It just is what it is. No one's dealing. The Dodgers have payroll and prospects to use to salvage 2005 if they want to. But even if they do want to, they're bargain-hunters on Thanksgiving Day - the stores won't even be open until everyone's finished chowing down a long, stupifying meal.
This is the team right now. We don't agree on what the problems are, and we don't agree what the solutions are. But all we can do is spend our time watching them and enjoying what we can and ruing what we must.
I really am at peace with the whole thing. Sure, there are moments and decisions that truly make me furious. But the overall idea that 2005 is slipping away - I can deal. I believe this team has a bright future. I believe that the prospects will start to deliver in 2006 or 2007. I believe that DePodesta will continue to make more good moves than bad.
Three years ago, I took a job at a museum where I had no hope for advancement. Today, I'm still at the same job (a longer story than it sounds), but I have much else to celebrate. This website, for one thing. And that's how I feel about the Dodgers. The present has been a disappointment, a dip where progress might have been expected. But the future looks sunny. At the end of the
Update: On Baseball Analysts, Rich Lederer writes about Bob Keisser's pro-Tracy, anti-DePodesta column in today's Press-Telegram. Lederer notes that there might be a case to make on both counts, but Keisser fails to do so on either:
For whatever reason, Keisser obviously has an axe to grind here. I think this type of "analysis" is proof that (many of) the oldtimers are uncomfortable with the changing of the guard within the executive suites of major-league baseball. To say it is disappointing in the case of Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is an understatement.
On occasion, Keisser has shown that he "gets it." But, more often than not, he reverts to criticizing DePodesta in a less than objective manner. He uses the cafeteria approach by picking and choosing his spots, pointing out the failures and ignoring successes.
It's hard not to agree with Lederer, especially when one sees that, for example, Keisser's article fails to mention the words "Jeff Kent" once. Didn't like it that Kent sat out most of Sunday's game? How would you feel if he were missing from the 2005 Dodger lineup for 162 games?
One of the many things I've noticed during the Dodgers' slide is the repeated observation that Tracy unfairly takes all the blame, while DePodesta hides from it in his office - during a period in which Tracy has gotten almost no actual blame for the slide in the press and DePodesta has taken all of it. Where, besides Fire Jim Tracy and the spillover onto the comment boards of this site, has Tracy taken any actual hits? And where hasn't DePodesta taken any? Where are the instances of DePodesta hiding, of ducking interviews?
It must simply be the vulnerability factor - that at the end of the season, Tracy would lose his job before DePodesta would. That's what makes it open season on DePodesta, while the mainstream press ignores or explains away Tracy's mistakes. It's not so much that Tracy is a hopeless manager. But he does get a free ride outside of the quarters I've mentioned above.
If Tracy is worth retaining as a manager - and I would sincerely (not sarcastically) like to see that proven, because who likes to see anyone truly be a failure - he should withstand the same scrutiny that DePodesta faces. Scratch that - they should both be held to fair scrutiny, not unfair.
1988 World Series Game 5 Dodger Starting Lineup
Today's Possible Dodger Starting Lineup
EQA courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
Promise Me, Son, Not To Do the Things I've Done
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Eric Gagne's surprisingly good surgery news gets discussed by Will Carroll in a special newsletter extra from Baseball Prospectus today.
He'll pitch with the same old ligament (nee tendon), but less of the nerve pulling, a similar problem to that which ended Brad Penny's season in 2004, albeit in a different location.
Some might question why Gagne's ligament wasn't replaced or overlayed in the modern technique, especially with an accelerated rehab schedule. It's hard to question Frank Jobe when it comes to a pitcher's elbow, but there could be some second guessing if Gagne is as slow to return as Penny was during the spring of 2005. Gagne's quotes about a replaced UCL having a limited life span will still echo in the heads of many Dodgers fans.
For now, the prognosis is roughly the same as before, with a bit more certainty that Gagne will be back in spring training. The key now is to make use of the impending six months of rehab to get his mechanics to such a stage that the elbow isn't restressed and that the National League is.
I might add that if Gagne needs an extra few weeks in 2006, as Penny did this past spring, let's not be hasty. Let's give them to him. Perhaps, let's even encourage him to take them, if he can't be trusted not to take risks.
It's funny how players like J.D. Drew and Odalis Perez get such grief for taking time to heal properly, when we so often see the pitfalls of coming back too soon. Of course, sometimes a quick return is successful without any consequences - other times it's successful with consequences. (Curt Schilling, anyone?) But very often, dashing back onto the field is downright foolhardy.
I guess some always have the suspicion that players who take their time with their recoveries are spineless, cowardly and yella, but cowardice sometimes can be a wonderful thing.
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Lesson of the day: A winning clubhouse can be a quiet clubhouse.
From Albert Chen in this week's Sports Illustrated:
... the home locker room has the feel of a university library. A handful of St. Louis Cardinals shuffles across the carpet to their lockers, while a half-dozen others watch video of that night's opposing pitcher on a pair of TVs hanging from the ceiling. First baseman Albert Pujols sits upright in a chair, his eyes hungry for information, his fingers resting on the video controls so he can fast-forward and rewind at will. Ten minutes pass. No one utters a word.
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Meanwhile, SI.com has a wee excerpt from a 1964 article by Robert Creamer on Vin Scully ...
When Vin Scully came to Los Angeles with the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers, he was a stranger in alien corn. But he soon became as much a part of Southern California as the freeways. ...Out-of-town visitors at ball games in Dodger Stadium have Scully pointed out to them -- as though he were the Empire State Building -- as he sits in his broadcasting booth describing a game, his left hand lightly touching his temple in a characteristic pose that his followers dote on and which, for them, has come to be his trademark.
Moonlight on a Saturday Morning
Since I know where this inevitably leads - we've all had this conversation 100 times - I liked Field of Dreams (there is some real hard emotion amid all the treacle that the film's detractors cite), and the greatest baseball movie of all time is The Bad News Bears.
First Shoe Drops - Waiting on the Second
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Very often, Las Vegas gets the news about Dodger minor league callups before Los Angeles does. And so we learn from Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun (in a feature about Dioner Navarro's rapid improvement) that outfielder Cody Ross is officially on his way to the Dodgers.
But there is still suspense ...
"Nobody was immediately sent down," Christensen said.
Could this hesitation mean ...?
Update: No. It's Derek Thompson's 3.50 ERA that goes down, and Scott Erickson's 6.75 ERA that stays.
In 24 days this month, Erickson has faced 15 batters and retired eight. He has been kept on the roster for nearly all of June to get eight outs.
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Tonight's starter, Jeff Weaver, since May 29: 33 innings, 11 earned runs.
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A move of Dodger Stadium to downtown and a transformation of the ballpark's current Chavez Ravine location into an urban green is imagined via photoshop in this David Friedman article in the L.A. Downtown News.
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Reports are spreading that today's operation found Eric Gagne's elbow injury not to be as severe as first thought, and that he would be ready to return by the start of 2006. We'll await further quotes from Dr. Jobe and/or the like.
Before I start talking about the Dodgers, I want to spend a moment in the Padres' sandals. They had a chance to bury the Dodgers, 8 1/2 games deep in the National League West. They let it get away. Will they take this as demoralizing? Or will this just be a blip for them?
I guess history will decide. Chemistry or no chemistry. Faint or strong of heart. It's always discovered in the autopsy, isn't it?
As for the guys in blue ...
Not to gross anyone out here, but there was an episode of Hill Street Blues in which public defender Joyce Davenport was representing a survivalist. He asked her, hypothetically, how she would stay alive in if her car ever broke down deep in the desert. Her reply was something along the lines of 1) sleep in the shade of her car's undercarriage during the day and walk only at night, to avoid sunburn and energy depletion, and 2) to provide herself with sustaining fluids, capture her own urine in a container.
The survivalist immediately asked Joyce to marry him.
I'm guessing you know where I'm going with this. Over the past 24 hours, the Dodgers have been surviving not on champagne, but another kind of bubbly altogether. And they'll travel through cover of darkness, toward home, much in need of a Velamint but otherwise enduring for at least one more day.
The thing is, they are drinking of themselves ... even though there's a fresh bottle of water or two right in front of them.
My Dad hated the Dodgers' trade with Florida last July. Didn't like it then, doesn't like it now. Thought Hee Seop Choi was worthless then, and doesn't have much higher of an opinion of him today.
Even he is stunned by what Jim Tracy is doing with Choi.
What are the arguments for playing Jason Phillips at first base today instead of Choi? Phillips' nifty defensive experience at the position? His history of mashing right-handed pitching?
No matter. Tracy will come up with some explanation. None of this will change his obvious hostility toward giving the team's most frequent home run hitter any serious playing time.
I'm putting this sentence in bold: Choi is a flawed player. We get it, okay?
But on the 2005 Dodgers, who isn't?
The manager who supposedly aims to puts Choi in a position to succeed has saved him to hit against Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and lefty reliever Chris Hammond, while sitting him against league-average righthanders like Woody Williams and Brian Lawrence.
In four games against the division leader, Choi had only seven at-bats. And yes, he went 0 for 7. But does that make him a worse bet than Jason Grabowski or Jason Repko? One week, Choi goes hitless. The next week, he hits seven homers in four days. Out here in the Mojave, Jim Tracy should not be turning his nose up at bottled Choi.
I swear, it makes me laugh now how transparent this all is.
Just in passing, we are also presented today with the latest fun-for-all bunt attempt. Down by three runs with six outs remaining, with a leadoff hitter who has grounded into 30 double plays in 2,230 career plate appearances, Cesar Izturis bunts.
In 2,230 career plate appearances to that point, Izturis had grounded into 30 double plays. And it's not like he's been a leadoff hitter all that time.
There's more to discuss, but I'm short of time.
Look, the Dodgers don't have a stellar crew out there these days. This seems mostly the fault of injuries, along with Paul DePodesta perhaps coming a player or so short in his offseason makeover of the team, since most of the moves to construct the current roster have turned out favorably.
DePodesta has his job to do - making sure that Derek Thompson, who provided three critical innings of shutout relief in his latest yeoman peformance - stays on the roster and Scott Erickson goes, for openers.
But Tracy has got to get out of the funk he is in. Because as resistant as I am to conspiracy theories, this one by Dodger Thoughts commenter GoBears is starting to seem bizarrely viable.
I imagine a sick game of chicken between Depo and Tracy. JT is daring Depo to fire him by deliberately minimizing the team's chances of winning. Depo is waiting for the media to turn on JT so that the firing is not seen as "unfair." Meanwhile, the team circles the bowl...
If Jim Tracy had made a habit in previous years of having leadoff hitters bunting while down by three in the eighth inning, and regularly benching one of his top power hitters, I think I would have remembered.
Update: Can I just say that despite the above complaints, winning feels so much better than losing.
Update 2: Steve Henson writes in the Times that Tracy disavowed Izturis' bunt ...
Izturis popped up trying to bunt for a hit something Tracy told him wasn't smart with the team down three runs and the runners advanced on Mike Edwards' groundout.
... and that Choi sat against Brian Lawrence today because of Lawrence's "repertoire of pitches he throws and his arm angles."
And ... Bill Shaikin has an entire feature exploring Tracy and Mike Scioscia's use of the bunt!
"The one thing that does get overlooked is to assume that, by putting the bunt on, it's going to be successful," DePodesta said. "That's not nearly the case. In those situations, you give up an out and don't advance the baserunner."
Under that standard, the Dodgers' execution has been poor this season. Click's analysis reveals a bunt play succeeds runner moves up, batter out about 60% of the time. The play fails runner out, batter safe at first about 25% of the time, with such outcomes as errors and double plays accounting for the other 15%.
The Angels have succeeded at a 75% rate last season and 72% this season, but the Dodgers have fallen from 77% to 57%. They rank sixth in the National League in attempts but 13th in successes.
But even DePodesta, who has not emphasized bunting ability in assembling his roster, does not discount the value of the sacrifice.
"If I play my home games in Coors Field, I'm probably not going to be doing a whole lot of bunting," he said. "If I play my home games in Petco Park or Dodger Stadium, it's probably going to be a more valuable tool."
Head to Head
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ESPN.com has a nice little head-to-head player comparison feature that I never noticed before.
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What's wrong with Hee Seop Choi?
Righthander on the mound for San Diego. Right-handed batters Mike Edwards, Jayson Werth, Olmedo Saenz, Jason Phillips (at first base) and Jason Repko in the lineup. Choi on the bench.
Unless Choi is hurt, Jim Tracy has declared a police action against him.
What Exactly Have the GMs Done Wrong?
Would you agree with this characterization of the acquisitions the Dodgers have made to help form their current 40-man roster (including the disabled list), along with prominent other minor leaguers?
Most of these are obvious, but a few are debatable. In any case, between Dan Evans and Paul DePodesta, the balance sheets seem solidly in their favor. Of course, the only things this list doesn't include are transactions that weren't made but should have.
Anyway, let me know your thoughts ...
Worth the Investment
Low Risk, Low Reward
Can't Tell Yet
Low Risk, Negative Consequences
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Recent Costly Departures
Recent Not-So-Costly Departures
Southern California Park Effects
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According to ESPN.com, the three Southern California ballparks are side-by-side-by-side in limiting runs this season.
What's remarkable about this is that Dodger Stadium continues to be almost neutral on home runs, while Petco Park and Angel Stadium reduce them significantly. The latter parks make up much of the difference in being more generous with doubles.
Still, something tells me that somehow, a greater percentage of home runs at Dodger Stadium are solo shots than in Anaheim and San Diego.
Update: In the brief period that I published this post and checked the link, the numbers changed, with Dodger Stadium dropping to 27th place and Petco to dead last.
And then I hit refresh, and the numbers changed again.
My whole world is shaken ...
We got three years, and maybe that's all. We got eight-inning wins and one-inning parties. And while Gagne waited for the rest of the franchise to become anywhere near as capable, his elbow went, and so he's blown nearly as many ligaments in his life (two) as he has save opportunities (six).
The organization wore a hard, sad expression on Tuesday. Gagne was what made them all special, even when they were mediocre. He was what made them contenders, even as they fell to the middle of the division.
As they'd just taken to opening their eyes every morning hoping for good news an at-bat out of Milton Bradley perhaps, a start out of Odalis Perez, a double out of Jayson Werth the worst came in a telephone call from Jobe himself.
"It hurts," Jeff Kent said. "It hurts because of who he is."
In a sport in which the games pile up so fast perspective can hardly keep up, Gagne kept the bullpen grounded, which in turn settled the pitching staff, which kept the Dodgers competitive. Most years. San Francisco had Bonds. New York had Jeter. Chicago had Sosa.
Los Angeles had Gagne, and the strain of getting to him, and the thrill of handing him the baseball.
- Tim Brown in the Times
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And so the Dodgers beat on, boats against the current ... forced to compete in 2005 without Eric Gagne, Mike Piazza, Orel Hershiser, Pedro Guerrero, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Garvey, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Zack Wheat and everyone else.
The Dodgers have taken to losing like Jenny Craig. They have lost 35 of their past 56 games, matching the fifth-worst stretch in Los Angeles history:
1979: 17-39 (66-40 in other games, finished 83-79)
The 1979 season presents the most interesting case, and the only faintly optimistic one in nearly half a century: a team that played .303 ball for approximately a third of the season played .623 ball for the other two-thirds. The '79ers started 19-18, stumbled by going 17-39, then went 47-22 over the second half of the year. This nearly best-case scenario recovery landed the Dodgers 83 total victories - a Renaldo Nehemiah-like sprint to third place.
In 1979, the Dodger offense was a mature, productive unit - like an Everybody Loves Raymond in season five. Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Ron Cey and Dusty Baker had some of their finest seasons. Bill Russell, Derrel Thomas and Steve Yeager didn't embarrass anyone. They all remained healthy. In part-time roles, Reggie Smith, Joe Ferguson and Gary Thomasson made us feel warm and fuzzy. (After a slow start, Smith was OPSing .825 with 10 homers in 68 games when he suffered a season-ending injury in July - and the Dodgers performed significantly better without him.)
On the mound, the Dodgers had three above-average starters in Jerry Reuss, Burt Hooton and Rookie of the Year Rick Sutcliffe and an average starter in Don Sutton. Where the team got slammed was in the rest of the pitching staff. They got absolutely nothing in the No. 5 slot from swingmen-by-necessity Doug Rau, Andy Messersmith and Charlie Hough, and little from the bullpen outside of the 1.11 ERA from future Valenzuela tutor Bobby Castillo.
Overall, 1979 was a bedrock team, using only 18 position players and 17 pitchers all year. (The 2005 Dodgers have used the exact same numbers, and it's only June 22.) The 1979 team, coming off consecutive National League pennants and managed by one of the game's most renowned motivators, had a great many pieces in place, but a lot of things went wrong before a lot of things went right.
Here in the middle of 2005, so much has gone wrong, the whole season feels like a torn elbow ligament.
The Dodger team ERA in June is 4.12; in May, it was 5.23. The Dodger team runs per game in June is 3.63; in May, it was 4.29. If the Dodgers had gotten their June pitching in May, they would have continued to be considered an elite team, and the current month of bad pitching and bad hitting easily summed up as an injury-induced rough spot.
But that's not the way it is. There's been poor execution (a word you need to be careful tossing around, given the prevailing mood), but there has been plenty of execution of the good kind. However, as far as luck and timing - there hasn't been much of the good kind at all.
The starting pitching has been born again, sort of - to no effect. It shows that underperforming players get better - and how that's not always enough. In July, Jayson Werth and Cesar Izturis might easily find the adqeuacy that Jeff Weaver and D.J. Houlton have displayed in June. The injuries, which seem to hit like wads of wet toilet paper on Halloween night, could be wiped away. But what will it all mean?
No matter what you think of the construction of the Dodger organization, some of the misfortune this season really is misfortune. But misfortune earns you no free rides. The Dodgers have to start doing things right if they want to win. Players have to find the answers to their slumps. The manager has to make smarter decisions. The general manager has to make the right moves. And the luck and timing have to decide for their own part that they want to correct themselves.
The season isn't over. But the margin for error is.
It's not about being optimistic or pessimistic. It's fairly clear what the odds are for the Dodgers. The game is just seeing how those odds will play out.
The fun part of the games is the winning. Right now, the fun part is only in our dreams.
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Update: Some key Dodger Thoughts posts regarding Gagne:
Fact or Fiction
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So I had this idea for the off day next week - June 30. We would gather at 9 p.m. (after my kids are in bed) for a Dodger game chat, for a game entirely of my fictional creation. I would post the play-by-play in this space, and you would just keep hitting refresh to see what happened. Kind of like an all-text Gameday.
The game would start later than a real game but have few commericial interruptions, to say the least, allowing it to end approximately at the normal time.
Anyone interested in going along for this ride, or do you only want the real magilla? (Fair warning: Sadly, Bob Timmermann will be out of the country!)
* * *
Here, the Score Bard smilefully addresses the managerial tumult in Zinzinnati.
* * *
Update: On KFWB this hour, Jim Tracy said something extraordinary in explaining his decision to bench Hee Seop Choi against San Diego righthander Woody Williams.
"The history is not 0 for 3," Tracy said. "It's 0 for 11. That's a fairly significant number."
I find this explanation absolutely appalling.
You are going to bench the player who hits home runs more frequently than anyone else in your offense-deprived lineup, because he had the equivalent of three bad games against a pitcher over the life of his entire career, so that you can play Jason Repko? (In case you were wondering, Antonio Perez could play the outfield about as well as he can play third base.)
There isn't a rationalization Tracy won't plunder to keep Choi on the bench. Absolutely appalling.
* * *
The sad Eric Gagne news, we'll address later in a separate post.
Nails Hit on Heads
Some sharp commentary on the Dodgers today from Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus:
See, it's not Gagne's injury that has been most devastating to the Dodgers. It's the loss of Milton Bradley that has crippled them. The switch-hitting center fielder was having a terrific season when a torn ligament in his right ring finger forced him to the DL in late May with him hitting .298/.345/.511. Up to that point, the Dodgers had scored 242 runs in 49 games, or 4.9 per. Since then - 72 runs in 20 games, down to 3.6 per. That's the difference between an offense that can win and one that can't.
The Dodgers simply haven't been able to replace Bradley's bat. Consider that last night against Jake Peavy, as nasty a right-hander as there is in baseball, Jim Tracy had Jason Repko batting second, Olmedo Saenz in the five spot, and Jayson Werth batting sixth. Repko is barely a major leaguer, and he sports a .308 OBP (albeit with a "backwards" OBP split in a small sample). Saenz and Werth are platoon players, capable of contributing by smashing left-handers, but out of their element when asked to play a significant role against righties. Tracy's few remaining left-handed options, Jason Grabowski and Oscar Robles, have been awful and have little hope of improving. Like Repko, each is a marginal major leaguer. ...
The Dodgers' rotation has been a disappointment as well, due to both injuries and unrealistic expectations. Or do you have another term for employing Scott Erickson? D.J. Houlton has now taken Erickson's spot and been a serviceable six-inning guy, which was his upside in March and remains so. The loss of Odalis Perez has hurt, although he wasn't pitching all that well at the time he went on the DL. The low-upside rotation was a good complement for an offense scoring five runs a game and a deep bullpen; when the offense and bullpen failed, the rotation began to look much worse. It's essentially a league-average group, maybe a bit better if Perez comes back healthy and effective.
While I give lots of credit to Paul DePodesta for assembling a bench using cheap, even free, talent, one of the reasons you do that is so that you can easily get rid of players who you're wrong about. After a season and a half, it's pretty clear that Jason Grabowski isn't going to hit the way he did in the A's system. Robles might have been a good player in the Mexican League, but he's barely able to get the ball out of the infield in the majors. Erickson should never have been employed, and is just a waste of roster space right now. Jayson Werth had a nice little run last year, but he needs a platoon partner. A month from now, we may be saying similar things about Antonio Perez and Mike Edwards, both of whom have gaudy stat lines driven by high batting averages, and who have temporarily solved the third-base problems.
There's more, but I've streched the limit of how much I should excerpt already. I think this is a plenty-good taste of a plenty-good synopsis of the Dodger dilemmas, without the usual noise. "Why they traded the heart of the clubhouse, Paul Lo Duca, last season is beyond me, but Jason Phillips isn't cutting it," wrote Maggie Haskins of SI.com wrote just a day ago.
Lo Duca's 2005 OPS, EQA and salary: .733, .270, $4.61 million
Add in Brad Penny for Guillermo Mota, while subtracting Kazuhisa Ishii, and maybe it will become even more clear.
Comments like Haskins' make me all the more grateful for comments like Sheehan's.
Padre and Dodger Offenses: Brief Comparison
(Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, which describes EQA, or equivalent average, as: "A measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. EQA considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player's defense. The EQA adjusted for all-time also has a correction for league difficulty. The scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. League average EQA is equal to .260.")
Surrender But Don't Give Yourself Away
There's no doubt there had to be a visceral difference between witnessing the two Dodger late-inning collapses this weekend, as opposed to reading about them later. I consider myself fortunate to be among the latter group, each day heading for dinner with the lead before checking on my cell phone to find out the stunning final sore.
The Dodgers, of course, were among the group who felt the pain first hand.
"I'm so flabbergasted at the game of baseball," Dodger catcher Jason Phillips told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "Maybe I should have played cricket. I don't want my son to ever pick up a bat, that's how bad it is."
The season, at this moment, is a car wreck, one that may prevent the Dodgers from ever getting where they wanted to go in 2005.
But what are you going to do if you're a fan - stop rooting? What are you going to do if you're a player - stop trying?
"You have to keep your faith," said Jeff Kent in the Orange County Register. "You have to keep grinding. You have to know every day that the next day it can get better, and if you don't believe that, pack your ... bags and go home."
I can already hear people advocate the third way - start shedding ballast and plan for 2006. This may ultimately be the path, but once again it's worth remembering that a) there's plenty of time left before this decision needs to be made, and b) this is not the first time the Dodgers have been in trouble in June.
You don't endure 16-year streaks of postseason winlessness without some June gloom. The chances of the Dodgers recovering enough to become a great team do appear small - but existent. But small. But existent.
Dodger Playoff Teams in the Division Era
I completely have the stomach and the long-term vision to sacrifice 2005 for a 2006 when the Dodgers can be not only a legitimate division contender, but a legitimate World Series contender. But today is not the day for the Dodgers, or their fans, to give up on their season. There is too much time and too much mediocrity everywhere.
Tonight brings another game, and perhaps the most interesting pitching matchup of the season. The Dodgers face the Padres, with the challenge of doing to San Diego ace Jake Peavy what as the Padres themselves did to Minnesota ace Johan Santana on Sunday - hang tough and win.
The Padres did so behind No. 5 or 6 starter Darrell May, while the Dodgers will send someone considerably better in Brad Penny. And in a sense, this is the very game that Penny was acquired for - to be an ace and beat the other team's ace. I'm under little illusion that Penny is an ace on the Peavy level, but he has enough good history to have his shot at being better this evening.
For all that has gone wrong, the Dodgers have a chance to reassert themselves. It doesn't matter if the National League West is baseball's worst division. Its winner gets a playoff ticket, and the Dodgers remain a contender. There isn't a pitching matchup in the series, frankly, that the Dodgers can't win.
Whatever happened to all this season's losers of the year?
If it's your argument that the Dodgers would be better off losing and knowing they were done for, I probably can't persuade you otherwise. But me, I think surprises can cut both ways. I'm going to let the Dodgers try to turn this around, give them the days we all have to spare to see if "they just seem a little weird." Surrender will come of its own accord if it's going to come.
* * *
The organizational problems extend to Las Vegas, which recently lost 12 consecutive games. From Nick Christensen in the Las Vegas Sun:
With Jason Repko, Mike Edwards and Mike Rose - all players expected to spend a good deal of time in Las Vegas this season - all subbing for injured Dodgers in the big leagues, the 51s are making due with players who don't usually excel in bringing home runners.
Norihiro Nakamura has been slumping. Chin-Feng Chen and Willy Aybar have been injured, and Dioner Navarro, who has been on a recent surge, will go on the disabled list today with a knee injury. Aybar will come off a six-day stint on the DL today but hasn't had a hit since June 7. Chen is still recovering from being hit in the wrist by a pitch in May. ...
With Navarro on the disabled list and Mike Nixon, called up from Single-A on May 28, the only catcher on the 51s' roster, a move is likely on Tuesday to bring someone else in. Two possibilities from Double-A Jacksonville would include former 51s catcher Eric Langill, who is 13-for-37 (.351) with the Suns this year, and Russell Martin, one of the Dodgers' top catching prospects who is hitting 65-for-209 (.311) at Double-A.
Odalis Perez makes his second rehabilitation start for Las Vegas tonight. But the team to watch of late has really been Jacksonville, where seemingly every significant Dodger prospect has been converging. Latest great hope Andy La Roche has two homers and three errors in his first four games.
A Couple of Father's Day Stories
My family has already made me feel tremendously appreciated today. They let me sleep in and brought me the paper to read in bed, and gave me wonderful cards, a mug with my kids' picture on it, and the first season of Scrubs on DVD, and hugs a-plenty. (Did I mention they let me sleep in???)
My best to all of those who will celebrate Father's Day with their families today, and my best to all of those who, for reasons consolable or not, will not.
Remember when El Slumpola was all Elmer Dessens' fault. Now he comes back, the wolf in sheepish clothing, trying to make it all right.
Another story from the past with increasing relevance to the 2005 National League West: "The Stooge Division."
The talk is that it might take only 85 victories to win the National League Western Division in 2004 (and that it might take even less to win the American League Central). Certainly, there are many of fans out there who think this is their best hope.
How About a Shutout for One Inning?
* * *
Tidbits from the Dodger press notes:
* * *
Colorado has returned Rule 5 pick Matt Merricks to the Dodger system, also according to the team's press notes. Merricks has been injured most of the season.
Hochevar in Omaha
Top Dodger draft pick Luke Hochevar is pitching for Tennessee right now in the opening game of the College World Series.
* * *
Olmedo Saenz has matched his at-bats total from 2004. In his Dodger career, he has 15 home runs in 222 at-bats.
He had eight home runs and one double last season; this year he has seven home runs and 10 doubles.
* * *
In his last start, Royals pitcher Zack Greinke allowed 217 runs before being removed from the game. Look for him to bounce back tonight.
The Left Side of Jacksonville: LaRoche and Guzman
Andy LaRoche is headed for Jacksonville, to play alongside Joel Guzman, who is headed back to shortstop after a hole-plugging sojourn at third base, according to Baseball America:
Jacksonville has more help on the way, too, as third baseman Andy LaRoche's assault on the Florida State League record book has ended after the Dodgers promoted him. He batted .333-21-51 in 249 at-bats for high Class A Vero Beach. The promotion should lead to Guzman sliding back over to shortstop, after he had filled in at third base for the injured Brian Sprout.
Has the Season Started?
It isn't just the Dodgers, and it isn't just the National League West. Mediocrity, or worse, has gripped practically the entire National League.
Who do you like in this bunch? Perhaps the Cubs have the wild card edge right now - they're doing okay and getting healthier. On the other hand, they have to play St. Louis 14 more times this season.
Among the challengers to the Cardinals, if April was the Dodgers' month and May was the Padres', June has become the Washington Nationals. Like their two predecessors, however, it wouldn't shock me if the Nationals fell on hard times a month from now.
Philadelphia may well prove my theory that Larry Bowa was the problem all along and pass Washington. I still sort of like the Mets as a big-city underdog, and for all of their problems, I still don't count out the Marlins (though I've been ready to count out Atlanta, and Arizona, for a while).
The Dodgers haven't really played great baseball for two months now, yet there they are in the thick of it. I'm like the rest of you: I want the team that wins to be a good team. But so far, four good teams haven't been revealed.
In some ways, it feels like the real season hasn't even started, and that it may not start until after the trading deadline.
Grey's Anatomy and Other First-Year Success Stories
Is it possible that one of the breakout hits from last season reminds us that high school never really ends?and a longer piece, on the success that new one-hour shows from last season found in breaking away from tired formulas ...
Like its feline siblings, the copycat TV series seems to have nine lives. But the 2004-05 television season might have shown the copycat a sneak preview of its mortality.
* * *
Meanwhile, we did indeed celebrate the opening of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at LACMA on Wednesday. I walked through the exhibition during the press preview and it really was quite something.
I say this with no standing as a King Tut buff - that's why you don't see me blogging Tut Thoughts anywhere. But the exhibition is really striking, aesthetically, historically and culturally. I hope you can come see it. It's well worth the extra price of admission - which is going to support preservation of these treasures in Egypt, isn't much relative to other events in Los Angeles, and is discounted on weekdays and for children, seniors and LACMA members. (There is also a complementary interactive children's exhibition, Pharaoh's World, which is free.)
You know what this is?
000 100 000 - 1
101 000 000 - 2
This is not liking a girl on first glance, discovering as you go that she has substance and some nice qualities - and then realizing, after it's too late, that you're too shallow for her anyway.
Like Watching Paint Fly
* * *
This isn't exactly like watching sluggers chase Hank Aaron's home run record, but it still fascinates me a bit.
In 1968, Jim Hines became the first non-superhero to run 100 meters in fewer than 10 seconds. In 37 years, the record has dropped an additional 22 hundreths.
For 14 years, 9.99 reigned. In the 15th year, 1983, Calvin Smith dropped it 0.06 to 9.93.
At 20 years, it had dropped by 0.07, thanks to Carl Lewis (1988), to 9.92. (By the way, I was in the stadium in Seoul when Ben Johnson ran his 9.79 that was later, you know, demystified.)
The 23rd year was huge: it had dropped by 0.09 (Leroy Burrell, 9.90, 1991) and then 0.13 (Lewis, 9.86, 1991).
In the 26th year, it inched another hundreth to 0.14 (Burrell, 9.85, 1994).
Year 28 brought it to 0.15 below (Donovan Bailey, 9.84, 1996).
Big leap in year 31, to 0.20 (Maurice Greene, 9.79, 1999).
Year 34: 0.21 (Tim Montgomery, 9.78, 2002).
Year 37: 0.22, to 9.77 (Asafa Powell, 9.77, 2005).
We're averaging about 0.01 per year for the past 15 years. Before that, it was slow moving in the fast lane.
Maybe we'll get an 8.99 100 meters in the year 2105. Won't that be nice to see in my dotage?
Yeah - that's right. I'm being optimistic. Dodger Thoughts forever!
Get Well, Get Well Soon, We Hope You Get Well Soon
What else can you say?
Except, is this all because of a freakin' pepper game?
* * *
Eric Gagne is obviously the story of the day, but a couple other life-marches-on notes ...
Two years ago, Odalis Perez had the temerity to point out that the worst offense in the National League was the worst offense in the National League, and teammates and the media villified him.
This year, Scott Erickson publicly criticized the defense, and other than a small comeback from Dodger manager Jim Tracy, there was no guff.
Tuesday night, Jeff Weaver tells Tony Jackson of the Daily News, "Once our offense gets going again, all we can do is benefit from it."
Certainly, I've seen more stinging rebukes in my time. But I don't recall a single position player uttering so much as a negative word about some of the lousy games Weaver has had on the mound this season - so it leaves me feeling rather disenchanted.
I'm not suggesting that we all need to tiptoe around each other. And my point isn't even about people in glass houses.
It's just that to this day, I cannot understand the treatment Perez got in 2003. And it still rankles me.
* * *
Part of the mythology of Tracy is that he's a Strat-o-Matic manager - he played the game and understands that the probability formulas that form the tabletop game's backbone can be applied to the real thing on the field.
But there are cracks in this fable, illustrated, for example, by Tracy's fear of the double play from certain batters. ("If we hit into a double play, then it takes you right out of the inning," Tracy said to Jackson.)
Double plays in Strat-o-Matic are generated by rolling the dice and getting a "GB (position) A." You can also tell a player's bunt rating, from A to E.
Guys like Antonio Perez, facing pitchers like Mike McDougal, are not going to have "GB (position) A" come up very often on their cards. Maybe if you roll something like a 2-12 (a two with one die in combination with sixes on a pair of dice). Perez might be an A bunter, though we haven't seen evidence of that. Meanwhile, there would be a lot of actual hits on the Perez and McDougal cards.
Just something to think about.
* * *
Tut, tut. Busy times at work ... will sneak back when I can.
Fresh Start for the Pitching Staff ... Except for Gagne
* * *
Update: Eric Gagne is apparently headed back to the disabled list, according to ESPN Radio and MLB.com.
"It's the same situation he was dealing with in Spring Training," manager Jim Tracy said. "He said he felt burning there."
An MRI performed by Dr. Steven Joyce, the Royals' team physician, revealed that Gagne has a second-degree sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament. ...
Tracy said Gagne on Sunday had the best fastball he has seen from his premier closer since Gagne was activated. But after that outing against Minnesota, Gagne complained of the burning sensation in his elbow.
* * *
Heading into the All-Star break with 16 games in 16 days and 26 games in 27 days, here are the Dodger pitch counts for the month:
Tonight you're mine, completely
One question that also interests me is ... what should the ratio of pitches between Gagne and a starter be.
A starter will likely throw from 450-600 pitches in a month. Gagne might throw around 200. Even considering Gagne has fewer days rest between outings, does that make sense? I obviously don't expect Gagne to throw 500 pitches in a month, but what should the expectation be?
Update 2: Well, it was a good question when I wrote it.
* * *
A Dodger fan in Royals territory, Lance Yoder, writes in:
My whole family is thrilled to be able to watch the Dodgers right here in the city where we live. To give you some perspective, I've probably attended close to 75 Dodgers games in my lifetime, but every time involved either a stay in a hotel (St. Louis, Cincinnati) or a 8-hour round trip from my childhood home in Iowa City to Wrigley Field to see the Dodgers. ...
If you haven't been following the Royals, they are playing by far their best baseball in more than two years. They've won 8 of 12 since Buddy Bell was named manager, with a sweep of the Yankees, winning one of three against Texas, and winning two of three at San Francisco and at Arizona. ...
On a less objective note, the Royals seem to be playing with a bit more of the proverbial "fire" than they were previously. Of course, the talk radio shows here in KC don't recognize that teams tend to look like they are "hustling" and "playing with intensity" when they ball is flying over the wall and into the gaps, but the team does seem to play with a sense of urgency that wasn't there prior to Buddy Bell arriving. I have no idea if that's his doing or merely good timing. ...
The Royals will have some players Dodgers fans have heard of (Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs, Terence Long, Jose Lima) and lots of others most people have never seen play (Mark Teahen, Ruben Gotay, Angel Berroa, David DeJesus, Matt Diaz, Shawn Costa, Zack Greinke, Runelvys Hernandez, J.P. Howell, John Buck). For those who haven't seen Kauffman Stadium, the Royals have done a great job of converting it from the Astro-Turf racetrack of the 1980s into a grass playing surface. The sight lines are all good, the fountains in the outfield are unique and they Royals do a good job making the stadium experience worthwhile. ...
The weather is going to be in the low 80s, high-70s with no rain, and I get to enjoy Dodgers baseball with my wife, kids and extended family and still sleep in my own bed after every game, so it's going to be a great series no matter what.
It didn't even occur to me until this moment to look to see if we would have Lima Time in this series. Sure enough, Jose Lima and his 8.16 ERA, winless since his playoff shutout of the Cardinals in Dodger Stadium, is scheduled to take the mound Wednesday.
The Dodgers Say Hi
Dodgers.com is hosting a web chat Thursday with team scouting director Logan White, and Dodgers director of public relations Josh Rawitch e-mailed specifically to invite Dodger Thoughts readers to participate.
"I know that the people that visit your site are among the most knowledgeable Dodger fans out there," Rawitch said. "We'd certainly welcome their questions about our incoming draft class or any of the guys Logan has drafted over the last few years, so feel free to log on at 2 p.m. to ask him any questions you might have."
Rawitch also pointed out that Internet support has helped lift shortstop Cesar Izturis into first place in the National League All-Star voting at shortstop, creating the possibility of a Dodger double-play combo in the midsummer spectacle. Jeff Kent has a comfortable lead at second base, while Izturis leads St. Louis' David Eckstein by 11,560 votes. Nomar Garciaparra and Clint Barmes, in third and fourth place, are injured.
Pods Take Over the Pads
The National League West-leading San Diego Padres have already lost more games in June than they did in May - and not by the hair of their chinny chin chins. Averaging 2.4 runs per game in June, San Diego has been outscored, 50-26. The Padres' OPS in the month is a woeful .610 - 29th in the majors - and dimensionally lower their opponents' .787. In May, San Diego won the OPS battle, .810 to .721.
The pitching, by the way, hasn't been that bad - a 4.06 ERA (0.05 lower than it was in May), led by Adam Eaton's 14 innings of two-run ball. All starting pitcher ERAs are below 4.00 except for Jake Peavy, who is likely to bounce back from a slow start to the month (five innings, four runs) and Darrell May, who isn't a regular member of the rotation. The bullpen hasn't had its best month, though.
I've never been enthralled with the 2005 Padre offense - guys like Phil Nevin and Sean Burroughs give up a lot of outs for what they get you - but this is a case of bad things coming in bunches. Like the Dodgers, they will eventually show that they are neither the 22-6 team of May nor the 3-8 team of June.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Choiday, Choiday, Choiday
Dodger Thoughts, June 7:
"This is a game of adjustments," Jeff Kent told Tony Jackson of the Daily News after Monday's game. "You just continue to adjust, no matter how long you play. The other guys get you for a while, and you try to figure out why. When you do, you get them. You just try to be as consistent as you possibly can, but it's never going to happen. I just tried not to worry too much."In the few days since this post, Choi has hit six home runs, including a game-winner off a lefty Friday and one, two, three today. Thanks, man! What do you say - should we take a chance on this guy?
This ends up being a pretty good week for the Dodgers to play some designated hitter games - surprising with all their injuries, led by Milton Bradley and Cesar Izturis. The Dodgers can continue playing Choi and Saenz in the same lineup for several days. If neither cools off, well, you've got a heck of a nice situation on your hands. Just remember - a cooling period for Choi doesn't mean the world has ended.
My congratulations to ESPN's Baseball Tonight for managing to sneak in its first mention of Choi's three-homer game - no tease, no anything preceding - 19 minutes into their highlight show. Only six minutes after some timely analysis of the fact there are three Molina brothers in the bigs.
* * *
Sunday brought another nice game for D.J. Houlton, whose eight strikeouts indicate his ability to get out of jams, some of his making, some of his defense's and some of the sun's. We'd rather he got into fewer jams to begin with - but that's Step 2.
As happy as it was to see Houlton complete six innings, I have to reiterate my belief that this season, the Dodgers should pinch-hit for a starting pitcher if he is only going to go one more inning maximum.
... going into a game, if your starting pitcher's ERA is roughly the same as the middle relievers' ERA, by the time the sixth or seventh inning of a close game rolls around, fatigue is likely to have made your starter less effective than your middleman. Let me say this again: The starter who was a better pitcher than the reliever when the game began, who was a better pitcher than the reliever in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, in most cases goes from better to worse as the game enters the final innings.I think it's important to bring this up in a game in which pretty much every Dodger did his job, to show that the philosophy is important even when ignoring it works.
With the game over, we're all happy that Houlton made it through six innings. But in the bottom of the fifth, the chances of us being happy with the game over would have been better if the Dodgers had hit for Houlton (with a runner on and one out, no less). Is a sixth inning of Houlton - and nearing 100 pitches, there wasn't going to be a seventh - worth giving up a scoring opportunity in a one-run game? (No more than it's worth it for third-base coach Glenn Hoffman to send Jason Grabowski around third to try to score with the ball already in leftfielder Lew Ford's glove and red-hot Choi on deck.)
Let me also reiterate that using your second-worst relief pitcher (Giovanni Carrara) as your first reliever out of the pen in a close game, less than a day after he has thrown 20 pitches, is not a good decision when better choices are better rested and there's an off day Monday, no matter how short an outing you intend for Carrara to have.
Hit for Houlton in the fifth Sunday, and you had Duaner Sanchez, Kelly Wunch, Yhency Brazoban and Eric Gagne (with a combined five pitches thrown Saturday) to get you through the final four innings. Then, if you need a fifth pitcher, you can go to Carrara - or Franquelis Osoria, for that matter. Carrara does not need all this work.
Not trying to be a harpie after a victory. Just trying to be consistent. This, after all, was a feel-good day. It was Choiday, after all. Again.
* * *
2005 NL AB/HR Leaders
8.4 W. Pena
14.1 C. Floyd
14.5 J. Cruz
15.0 A. Jones
16.3 T. Greene
16.9 D. Easley
18.0 R. Klesko
19.2 J. Repko
* * *
I neglected to mention Jeff Kent's sprinting catch of the ball Choi lost in the sun. The ball would have landed fair and cost the Dodgers two runs. This will sound like typical West Coast petulance, but I'm gonna say it anyway: If Derek Jeter makes that play, that's in the opening montage of SportsCenter.
Beating a Dead Horse
* * *
Scott Erickson is now used like a Rule 5 acquisition - last guy on the staff, with no expectations that he will help this season. The only difference from the typical Rule 5 is Erickson's certain future.
In almost every close game the Dodgers play, we see the impact of having only five reserves, while Erickson languishes uselessly in the bullpen. The Dodgers already have three starting pitchers in Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Jeff Weaver who will usually pitch at least six innings. As soon as two from the crew of true Rule 5 D.J. Houlton, fellow rookie Derek Thompson, and rehabilitating Elmer Dessens and Odalis Perez can make it a fivesome of six-inningsers, the Dodgers should get themselves back to an 11-man pitching staff and six-man bench as soon as possible. (Erickson, of course, should be long gone by this point.)
Supposedly, Houlton got the start over Thompson today to give the Dodgers the luxury of a second lefthander in the bullpen. But I suspect the nod to Houlton is no different than the nod that brought him to Los Angeles in the first place - a belief that he's really got the stuff. Otherwise, it would be odd to take Thompson out of the relative groove that he's been in during his first three starts.
Building the Perfect Car Wash
* * *
It's Saturday. You want to impress all the other cars at Dodger Stadium tonight - you want to look sparkling sharp - but the lines at the drive-through car wash are a mile long. And you want to do it yourself, anyway.
What are your materials? Best brands? Best items?
What are your methods? Dos and don'ts?
What's your favorite time of day?
What are your car wash intangibles?
Let's do this thing. Let's wash this car like a champ.
Update: Message received. Ignore those showboat neighbors of mine and just go to the car wash - heh.
Meanwhile, looks like most people skipped the game and Wang Chunged tonight. We went. We took a chance and got sandwiches from Philippe's on the way to the game. Missed the top of the first, but it was tastily worth it. Most unusual for me to bypass Dodger food, but life is full of surprises. Game atmosphere still seems off-kilter - only two beachballs tonight and no real drama in the stands that I knew of, but still wasn't a real fun, happy time. People boo at the drop of a hat - or a gopher ball. There's still just a lot of noise at the game.
By the way - no one in sports has commented that it's the Angels who have fired their organist first?
My Unrehearsed Home Run Call
That's a dramatic walkoff home run off the foul pole!
Off a should-be-retired lefty! Hee Seop Choi!
(I like the rather literal quality. Thank you very much.)
A Hand for Hammonds
* * *
One of my all-time favorites from Stanford, Jeffrey Hammonds, who won us over right away with a 37-game hitting streak in college, has retired from the majors.
People mocked Hammonds for his inability to stay healthy, arguing that he was stealing paychecks, but I always rooted for him. It's nice to see that he's going out with a positive attitude.
"People ask me, am I disappointed about the injuries that I've sustained during my career, that prevented me from fulfilling my potential?" Hammonds said. "My answer is: Are you kidding? I have played with the best ballplayers in the world, at all levels, from high school, to college, to the Olympics, to the major leagues. That is a dream in itself."
I'm Going to a Baseball Game Tomorrow
In 1996, the Dodgers had a 13-game homestand, and I attended all 13 games. That was my year of being single and between jobs, as they say, and I saw 70 games that season (in case you were wondering how I ever got the games attended in the Dodger Thoughts sidebar up so high).
This weekend, the Dodgers are wrapping up a 13-game homestand, of which I'll only attend Saturday night's game.
My goals for attending games have dwindled with each passing year since '96. Half the home games was my goal until a few years ago. Last year, I manged to get to 25 percent, most of them before my son's August birth. This year, it will be some amount of work just to get to double digits. Not since 1992, when I spent most of the year in Washington D.C., has my Dodger attendance been this low.
(None of this, of course, undermines my ability to write about the Dodgers, right? Right?)
Even the games that I've gone to haven't been completely rewarding this year. We've taken one or both toddlers to three of the five games I've been to this year, including a wonderful Opening Day, and they do pretty well before losing it around stretch time. I love being at the games with them - I love the idea of it and I love the reality of it - but I've rarely got my attention on the field for 10 consecutive seconds.
Then, of the two games I went to without the kids this year, one was this - a game that briefly left me wondering whether I would ever go back.
Saturday night, it's just my wife and I at the game. We've got a friend from work babysitting, I've got my health back, and I even have time to freelance Friday night and Saturday morning so that I don't have to feel bad about not working at night.
Nothing in front of me at the ballpark except food and a baseball game. It's gonna be nice.
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Top Dodger draft pick Luke Hochevar is scheduled to pitch for Tennessee at Georgia Tech in a Super Regional (round of 16) game at 1 p.m. today. Outfielder and third-round pick Sergio Pedroza will be in action for Cal State Fullerton against Arizona State tonight at 7.
Innings 1-4: Hochevar struck out the first two batters in the fourth inning, giving him six strikeouts out of 10 total outs, then got into trouble before allowing an unearned run. The game is 1-1 after four innings; Hochevar has allowed two hits, two walks and a hit batter.
Inning 5: Hochevar's fifth inning sandwiches a walk and a wild pitch with three strikeouts. Still a 1-1 game. Georgia Tech's Blake Wood has held the Volunteers to an unearned run, allowing one hit, one walk and one hit batter and striking out three in five innings.
Inning 6: Two strikeouts give Hochevar five in a row, but again he can't close out the inning. A single, a double and a balk bring home the go-ahead run for Georgia Tech. Hochevar then hit his second batter of the game before escaping further damage. Six innings, 11 strikeouts, but losing, 2-1.
Inning 7: A hit and no strikeouts, but no runs allowed by Hochevar.
Inning 8: Hochevar's day is over: seven innings, five hits, two runs (one earned), three walks, 11 strikeouts, and reportedly 136 pitches. (He had six days rest since his last appearance, in which he went eight innings.) Tennessee put two runners on in the top of the eighth but didn't score, so he can only lose or have no-decision.
Inning 9: A one-out, two-run homer by No. 8 hitter Rob Fitzgerald takes Hochevar off the hook and puts Tennessee ahead, 3-2. Volunteers reliever Sean Watson locks down the victory in the bottom of the ninth.
The other day, Ellen Pompeo was talking about her fascination with a news feature in a magazine -- "the one with Angelina Jolie on the cover."Subscription required, so I realize many of you won't see it - but maybe you'll at least be intrigued.
Update: Apparently you can read the article if you go through an ad first.
There will be two more articles next week.
Let's take a moment to celebrate the contributions of Antonio Perez and Mike Edwards, who have combined to go 43 for 121 (.355) with a .431 on-base percentage for the Dodgers this season.
The only thing these fellas have been lacking offensively is home run power, part of the reason that the Dodgers are 98-pound weaklings from the left side of the team.
2005 MLB Home Runs
The Dodgers have done as well as they have through their center-right leanings: 53 home runs from everyone else on the team, good for second in the majors behind Texas.
Chavez Ravine, Old and New
* * *
Don Normark's classic photographs come to life tonight as part of Jordan Mechner's documentary, Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story, airing at 9:30 p.m. on KCET.
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Cesar Izturis' recent 0-for-21 slump:
He's making less frequent contact during the slump (one strikeout per 5.5 plate appearances) than he has overall in 2005 (one strikeout per 9.8 plate appearances). He has put the ball in the air a little more than usual; normally, he's close to a 2-1 ratio on groundouts vs. flyouts. And of course, even by Izturis standards, he is walking rarely.
No doubt he will read this and get back on the right track tonight, right?
* * *
From Baseball America:
Dodgers' No. 1 prospect Joel Guzman missed his second straight game at Double-A Jacksonville with a sore left shoulder, the same injury that caused him to miss three games in late May. The 20-year-old will be examined by a specialist on Wednesday when the team returns home for a four-game set against Carolina.
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According to the Kannapolis website, they are related.
Workload and Balance
** with AAA Las Vegas
The stated goal of the Dodgers has been to preserve the elite relievers by not wearing them out.
In pursuit of this goal, secondary relievers Duaner Sanchez and Giovanni Carrara have thrown more than twice as many pitches this month as elite relievers Yhency Brazoban and Eric Gagne. Even before Tuesday's game, Sanchez and Carrara had thrown 50 percent more pitches than Brazoban and Gagne.
Kelly Wunsch, who most feel is a better reliever than Carrara, has thrown the least during this time. Wunsch does lead the pitching staff in overall appearances this season, however, so perhaps he has earned some rest. Less relevantly, he is considered a specialist against lefties and generally saved for those opponents.
The Dodgers can get better use out of their bullpen rather easily first by not wasting a roster spot on Scott Erickson, second if Franquelis Osoria proves to be the real deal, third if they get some help back from the disabled list, fourth and most important - by balancing the reliever workload.
I understand that the Dodgers don't want to burn out Brazoban and Gagne before September. But there isn't going to be a September, so to speak, if the middle relievers' arms fall off.
This is not a shot at Sanchez, who is just on the good side of mediocre but nevertheless has been one of the better relievers on the staff this season. He's entitled to the kind of bad outing he had Tuesday.
The point is, it's one thing to use the secondary relievers to balance out the bullpen workload. It's another thing to give the secondary relievers way more than their share. That's like having your kids watch a fifth hour of TV because you fear they've been reading too much. However tempting, it's not the way to go.
The Dodgers could have easily used Osoria, Wunsch, Brazoban, and Gagne to get through the final four innings of the game. And then, if someone gets in trouble or it goes extra innings, they could have turned to Sanchez and Carrara. (We won't spend much more time talking about Erickson, whose appearance Tuesday can only be justified as some sort of Salem Pitch Hunt.)
The Dodgers had a lead in the sixth inning Tuesday, but worked from the back of their bullpen instead of the front and lost that lead. The top relievers will certainly be rested for tonight's game but tonight's game could be a blowout loss, more appropriate for the secondary relievers. If it's not a blowout loss, then that leaves you in a situation no different from Tuesday's game, except for the fact that guys like Sanchez and Carrara would be pitching with another day of rest and a likely Tuesday victory in the team's back pocket.
It does not make sense to save rested elite relief pitchers for another day. Don't overwork Gagne and Brazoban. Don't underwork them either.
* * *
Oh, and by the way - the Dodgers have only four games in the next six days. They do not need 12 pitchers. They don't they don't they don't. Bring up a bench player, however temporary, and make the oh-so-inevitable Erickson excision now. Or heck, put him on the disabled list with "tenderness" if you can't bear to let him go. But now is the time.
Charting ... Erickson ... and Osoria
Scott Erickson vs. Detroit, sixth inning, Dodgers leading 4-2
vs. Ivan Rodriguez
vs. Craig Monroe
vs. Ramon Martinez
15 pitches, 6 balls, 9 strikes
Replaced by Franquelis Osoria, after not exactly getting through the lineup the first time through. The move to place Erickson in the game at this point can only be interpreted as giving him a final chance. There is no pitcher on the roster that should be cut from the team when an injured pitcher returns before Erickson.
But of course, it's not like we didn't know that already.
* * *
Franquelis Osoria, major league debut, sixth inning, two on, none out, Dodgers leading 4-3
vs. Nook Logan
vs. Chris Shelton
vs. Brandon Inge
5 pitches, 1 ball, 4 strikes
Osoria retires the side on five pitches. That inning was an expensive remedial lesson.
More on the Dodgers' Top Pick
As a follow-up, I asked what level Lederer thought Hochevar would begin his Dodger career at. Here is Lederer's reply, via e-mail:
"I would guess High-A," Lederer said, "I can see him reaching the big leagues two years after he begins his minor league career, but the key is when does that start? He may be finished for the year after logging over 110-120 innings this year on the heels of 33 last summer and a full load last spring. Neither side may be anxious for him to pitch anymore this year. High-A coming out of spring training 2006. If he performs well, maybe he gets a shot at AA next summer. More seasoning at AA to begin 2007 with a quick jump to AAA, followed by the proverbial cup of coffee with the Dodgers in September 2007. Possibly in starting rotation coming out of the spring of 2008 if all goes well. He would be 24 1/2 at that point."
Update: More from Lederer on Hochevar here (scroll down), comparing the current situation with the 2004 No. 40, Huston Street of Oakland.
* * *
"This is a game of adjustments," Jeff Kent told Tony Jackson of the Daily News after Monday's game. "You just continue to adjust, no matter how long you play. The other guys get you for a while, and you try to figure out why. When you do, you get them. You just try to be as consistent as you possibly can, but it's never going to happen. I just tried not to worry too much."
So simply, the phenomenon of the streak hitter is explained. The difference between a streak hitter and a bad hitter is simply the ability to adjust.
That's why some of us have found it frustrating when a player like Hee Seop Choi stays on such a short leash - at least before Olmedomania/Saenzsteria took over. It's hard to ask a manager to sit a hitter as hot as Olmedo Saenz. Fair enough. But separate from that issue, when Choi goes into a slump, many people decide that he's hopeless at the plate. Period. This is inexplicable to me, since he seems so clearly a streak hitter, who has had good streaks every year of his young career to go with his bad, who does make adjustments. The adjustments seem to come slowly because he rarely plays three games in a row, but they do come. Over a full season, he is more than a bargain - he is an asset.
Last night in the game chat, there was a discussion of how eager many of us are to defend Choi at every step. The fact is, the guy merits the defense. Not because he is so great. Not because we are blind to his flaws. Choi is not the greatest first baseman in the game, and for the immediate present, he might not be the greatest first baseman on his team. This point is easily conceded. But he remains a good player in the present and one still likely to get better. That's exciting. Anyone who still cringes when he comes to the plate is missing the boat.
Tonight will no doubt be another night on the bench for first baseman Choi, with lefthander Nate Robertson starting for Detroit. Outfielder J.D. Drew, however, will probably play, despite a .283 slugging percentage in 69 plate appearances against lefties this season - because there is established faith that Drew is a better hitter than that small-sample statistic shows. Very likely, Choi will someday earn that faith himself.
Fortunately for Dodger fans, that faith might not be needed tonight. Just about everyone on the team has been potent offensively in the past seven days, led by Drew (1.507 OPS), Kent (1.341) and Saenz (1.020). The only regulars or semi-regulars to have cold weeks are Cesar Izturis (.314), Ricky Ledee (.182) and Choi (.235).
So this hasn't been Choi's week and it won't be Choi's night. He will adjust.
The 2005 Dodger Draft
Yep, it's getting drafty in here. Or it will be, when the MLB Draft commences.
Dodger Top Picks
Reversing the recent Dodger trend of picking prep players at the outset, Hochevar is a power-pitching college junior, a first-team All-America (USA Today) with a 15-2 record, 2.13 ERA, 140 strikeouts in 126 2/3 innings while allowing only 91 hits, 46 walks and seven home runs, and ... representation by Scott Boras, creating some potential signability issues like Jered Weaver had with the Angels. Said representation probably prevented Hochevar from being a top-five or even a No. 1 pick.
Jim Callis of Baseball America adds: "In his first draft as Dodgers scouting director, Logan White took Fowler (Colo.) High righthander Luke Hochevar in the 39th round. Los Angeles wasn't able to sign Hochevar away from the University of Tennessee, and at the time White said, 'He'll be a first-rounder in three years.' ... Hochevar, considered one of the top two college pitching prospects for most of the year, took a late nosedive in the draft. He didn't finish the season at his best, and when the Rockies gave up yesterday after two days of trying to see if they could avoid a lengthy negotiation with adviser Scott Boras, several other teams decided to pass as well."
Round 2, 51st pick overall: Ivan DeJesus, SS, American Military Academy (Puerto Rico), 18, 5-foot-11, 176 pounds
Son of the Dodger that was included in the trade with Bill Buckner to Chicago for Rick Monday in the 1970s, DeJesus gets mixed reviews from Baseball America, praising him in the article linked above with his name, but also adding this in a different scouting report: "The current De Jesus model has a good idea at the plate, and his bat gets above-average grades from scouts in the 55-60 range (on the 20-80 scale), projecting him to be a .280-.300 hitter. Whether De Jesus hits for power will determine his ceiling. He has some present jolt in his swing due to strong wrists and forearms. Scouts are mixed on him defensively."
Round 2, 74th pick overall: Josh Wall, RHP, Central Private School (Louisiana), 18, 6-foot-6, 190 pounds
The second tall righty in three picks, but this one a teenager. If he goes to college, it will be at Louisiana State. He was the state player of the year, going 13-1 with 131 strikeouts in 80 innings. His fastball reached 95 after throwing between 93 to 91 to go with a developing change-up and solid curveball. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate: "Wall was named the top prospect at the Perfect Game World Top Prospect Showcase in Florida. His fastball reached 95 after throwing between 93 to 91 to go with a developing change-up and solid curveball." Baseball America ranked him the 63rd top overall prospect, saying "stuff has been erratic all spring; body has room to fill out."
Wall also swings a power bat as an infielder. Everyone talks about him as a pitcher now, but the Dodgers went against the grain with prep pitcher/infielder James Loney three years ago and kept him off the mound. We'll see what they have to say.
Round 3, 106h pick overall: Sergio Pedroza, OF, Cal State Fullerton, 21, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds
Not to be confused with the King of Brazilian Romantic Music, Pedroza, a junior in eligibility, was the hero of Fullerton's recent NCAA regional victory that advanced the Titans to the final 16. Pedroza has an on-base percentage of .462 and 15 home runs in 60 games. He is not on the Baseball America top 200 list. Sized like Paul LoDuca and Jason Repko, Pedroza has high "scrappy" potential.
Of the Dodgers' first 13 picks, nine are pitchers.
Links (some suggested by Baseball Primer):
Baseball Toaster Draft Chat on The Griddle (Ken Arneson promises day-long updates.)
And while you're waiting, some short flashbacks:
Dodger Thoughts: 2003 draft (with a Jefferson Smith quote!)
A post that mentions Frank McCourt - the hornets nest of Dodger Thoughts ... I'm going to duck now.
There's an interesting article on the Dodgers' public relations problems and attempted solutions under McCourt by Bill Shaikin in Tuesday's editions of the Times.
The problem began, as Shaikin writes, with this: "McCourt's ownership of the Dodgers started not with a clean slate but with a tarnished one. Upon the advice of major league officials, McCourt remained silent during the four months needed to scrutinize the complex financing of his purchase."
I said as much as early as November 2003:
If you intend to bring glory back to the Dodger franchise, Frank, then Step 1 is for you to come to Los Angeles and tell the people so.
Shaikin himself told me in January 2004 that his research found that "there is no rule preventing McCourt from commenting (on the Dodgers before the deal is finalized), just a recommendation." Bad recommendation.
As I said when Dodger execs Gary Miereanu and Lon Rosen were fired in April, there seemed to be more scapegoating than responsibility-taking from McCourt for his public relations problem. But there's no doubt, as Shaikin's article indicates, that hiring the PR firm of Sitrick and Co. shows that McCourt is investing in a solution.
Charting Gagne (June 6)
vs. Ivan Rodriguez
vs. Craig Monroe
vs. Omar Infante
12 pitches, 3 balls, 9 strikes
Halfway into Infante's at-bat, was wondering if Gagne would throw any fastballs at all. The two he did throw had life, though fractionally less than he had Saturday. But once more, the lollipop curve does its job.
Game over at 9:21 p.m., thanks to Derek Lowe and Jeff Kent - early bedtimes for all ...
Update: Except for me - I just keep finding new things. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com notes that with the callup of Franquelis Osoria (great 2.52 ERA as a reliever in AAA Las Vegas) to replace the disabled Wilson Alvarez, nearly a third of the current Dodger roster is made up of rookies: Osoria, Yhency Brazoban, D.J. Houlton, Derek Thompson, Mike Rose, Mike Edwards, Oscar Robles and Jason Repko. Thompson makes his third start Tuesday.
Milton Bradley, Elmer Dessens and Odalis Perez are making progress toward their returns, Gurnick notes.
Meanwhile, Bill Shaikin reports in the Times that Brad Penny is close to signing a rather massive contract extension, pending a new physical - potentially $32 million over four years, including an option year. As much as general manager Paul DePodesta gambled with similar dollars that the durable Derek Lowe would be an able pitcher, DePodesta will be gambling that the able Penny will be durable.
Update 2: "Meanwhile," writes Bill Plunkett of the Register, "neither side has initiated any discussions of a contract extension for (Jeff) Weaver, who is represented by Scott Boras. Weaver (5-5 with a 5.65 ERA this season) is making $9.35 million in the final year of a four-year contract signed with the Detroit Tigers."
June 6 Game Chat: Bad OPS Beginnings
* * *
Keith Woolner of Baseball Prospectus put together a list of the players with the worst through-May OPS, minimum 150 plate appearances, since 1972. Dodgers take up three of the top 10 spots:
.419 Alex Gonzalez, 2000
* * *
Meanwhile, as a couple of Dodger Thoughts readers pointed out in the comments, ex-Dodger Guillermo Mota has hit the skids in Florida. Perhaps, as Will Carroll surmises, Mota came back from the disabled list too soon.
From the Miami Herald:
To say Mota's season has not gone according to his - or the organization's - script would be an understatement. Mota, projected to fill the closer's spot, has just two saves, spent most of May on the disabled list and now appears to be in McKeon's doghouse.
Mota has given up runs in three of his four relief outings since returning from the DL, including seven in his past two appearances. He coughed up a grand slam in Pittsburgh and was charged with three runs in Saturday's loss.
But McKeon was also miffed that Mota didn't take part in a pregame bullpen workout with Marlins pitching coach Mark Wiley, a sign of indifference to the manager. ... McKeon said he has spoken previously with Mota about his role.
"I know you want to start being a closer, but you've got to start closing out the innings we bring you in and show us you're worthy of being in line of doing the same job that [Todd] Jones is doing right now," McKeon said he told Mota. "We need him to be back to the Mota he was last year."
* * *
Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts has another update on the NCAA baseball postseason, including the sad note that Stanford went down in a 12-inning defeat, when Cardinal starting pitcher Greg Reynolds allowed a home run to his 44th batter, leading off the top of the 12th. The local games, Cal State Fullerton-Arizona and USC-Pepperdine, are tonight, Lederer reminds us. Keep visiting Baseball Analysts for coverage of NCAA baseball and the Tuesday major league draft.
Tracy and Me
Jim Tracy came into our Dodger lives a little more than four years ago, and for many of us, he seemed to be just about everything we would want from of a significant other.
We weren't the most impressive bunch of guys on the dating scene - we were Maserati-driving, gold chain-wearing brainlessly shallow, deeply flawed in places, seemingly always falling short of our dubious potential. Wayward.
In many ways, Tracy cleaned up our act, taught us, focused us. With Tracy by our sides, we were better than we had been in quite some time. After years of bumbling about, wasting our lives, we were someone to respect again. He ... completed us. Almost, anyway. Not quite, but he pushed us toward completion.
Tracy wasn't perfect, but who is? And I don't mean for that question to be glib. Really, nobody's perfect. Bobby Cox isn't perfect. Joe Torre isn't. Phil Jackson isn't. Abraham Lincoln? Jefferson Smith? Mother Theresa? Superman? Everyone makes mistakes. Not only that, everyone has blind spots, some more damaging than others, but they're everywhere. If you spend your life looking for the perfect guy or girl, you're going to end up alone.
What you hope for, to put it in brief, is a preponderance of goodness. You hope for someone to love. And then, as you mature, you hope - for the sake of the relationship, at least - you don't grow apart.
It happens to good couples, and it happens to good people. It happens even when times past were simply grand, and it happens without warning.
But Tracy and I are growing apart.
He owes me no apologies for causing me to say this, and I owe him no apologies for saying it.
I value the (relative) success of the past four years. Tracy has been the manager of a contending team each of those years, reaching the playoffs in one of them. At no point from 2001-2004 did I think Tracy was anything but an asset. With only rare exceptions, he kept the atmosphere around the team positive and focused on winning. He navigated major personnel changes below him and above.
His philosophy of using his entire roster - even if it meant a weaker player was in the lineup for one given game - I believe in, and it was fun to see a guy off the end of the bench knock two hits in a rare start, or see that guy contribute a key pinch-hit late in the season and imagine it was because he got in a game relatively recently, even if it was an 0 for 4. Tracy engineered effective platoons. He gave us Game Over. And more. It was a good four years.
When Tracy arrived, I was coming off a series of bad managerial relationships. By the mid-1990s, Tommy Lasorda seemed the reactionary cheerleader from Evil High, the quintessential rah-rah who nevertheless would smite you to hell with a look or an off-mic curse, and who wasn't above putting the small girl with the sore arm at the bottom of the pyramid and expecting her to support the whole tower. Bill Russell replaced Lasorda, and disappointed - looking at first like the nice, smart gal down the block for whom we were waiting until the time was right, he proved way more brittle with less up top than those fantasies suggested. I'm probably being too judgmental, but that was the feeling.
Glenn Hoffman, we dallied with for a while - since the breakup, we've even stayed platonic friends on a coaching level - but it was never became serious. Davey Johnson, the hottie with the reputation, seemed to have developed some issues by the time he reached us. We missed the best years of his life. That's how it goes sometimes.
Tracy was a breath of fresh air. Not someone from our neighborhood, not someone with a past, not someone we had particularly high expectations for, yet it led to something very meaningful. Our relationship with Tracy is our longest with anyone since Lasorda - does it shock any of you to realize this is already Year 5? - which means that for anyone under the age of about 50, it's the second longest Dodger managerial relationship of our lives. It almost qualifies as a marriage.
It gives me no glee, none whatsoever, to say that in this marriage, for me, the thrill is gone. He's not a bad person, and I'm not a bad person. But the thrill is gone.
Some of this is subjective, and therein likes room for debate. But I no longer believe Tracy is making us better than we would be without him. Our makeup - the makeup of the Dodgers - has changed, and I don't think Tracy is recognizing those changes for what they are. I don't think he really understands us anymore. (Again, as much as this turn of phrase works in both the dating world and in this discussion, I'm not saying this to be cute or clever. I think it's real.) With their walk-heavy offense and strikeout-deficient pitching, the Dodgers now have different strengths and weaknesses than they have ever had under Tracy, and he hasn't shown a clear ability to manage them effectively - even taking the team's injuries into account. Misjudgments, in my meager opinion, have occured with enough frequency to raise questions about Tracy's overall approach.
If he were willing to learn - explore the equivalent of counseling - then I'd be encouraged. For all I know, he might be learning as we speak, and could put the lessons into play starting tonight. But he comes across rather defiant. He has said that his record speaks for itself. Unless he means that his record implies an ability to learn as he goes, I don't think that's a healthy attitude to bring to a relationship or a team. You are never too old or too experienced to learn. I'm willing to listen to what Tracy has to say, as I'm sure are most of the Dodgers. If he can show me something new and insightful, I crave the lesson. But that isn't happening. In the meantime, his eyes seem closed to the new realities.
And so what was once charming or harmless or both with Tracy now becomes grating and aggravating. Without the bedrock of believing he is making our big picture being better, little moments like failing to remove or pinch-hit for a tiring pitcher before the damage is done, picking the wrong reliever for a given situation when the right one did not need further rest, or greeting a baserunner in a tight game by having your No. 3 hitter - a man with plate discipline, batting skill, power and speed, a man who has grounded into a double play only 37 times in a 3,103 plate-apperance career (once every 83.9!), someone who does strike out but otherwise is almost all dividend with no risk - having that player bunt - you don't want to go to bed with that manager anymore. You'd rather shut out the light, roll over and go to sleep.
The path I am on now with Jim Tracy can lead to irrational behavior, especially if you don't know to take a step back from it. Today, I think still of my girlfriend from college, the second meaningful relationship of my personal life. We connected right away, were in bliss for quite some time. And then, she just started getting to me. And I couldn't help wondering what else was out there. I became interested in another person, though I had no strong reason to believe that that person was interested in me (turns out, she did spurn.) In any case, my patience for my girlfriend, and my appreciation for the goodness she did possess, wore out.
The last straw presaged Seinfeld in its idiosyncrasy. We were driving home, listening to "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by the Police on the car stereo. She was singing along with the song. And as we got to the final chorus, I began saying to myself, "She's gonna sing the harmony. She isn't just going to just sing the normal part. She's gonna show off that she can do the harmony."
And she did. And I decided at that moment to break up with her.
Isn't that silly? The girl was just singing, happily. But whether it was her other actions in the relationship, or my own search for something more, that precipitated the moment, the moment signaled something clear - one of us, if not both of us, had to change.
I don't know that Jim Tracy is going to change enough, and I don't know that I'm going to change enough.
If you're Jim Tracy, of course, you can dismiss this whole conversation as nonsensical. Who the hell is Jon Weisman? He's nobody. But I might not be alone in how I feel - not alone at all. My opinions might be worthwhile, even if my identity is a mystery. I really try not to speak out of a place of arrogance or superiority, but simply as someone who thinks he has something valid to contribute, something worth hearing.
So the thrill is gone. What now? Does this site become FJT II?
Most of the time, when you break up with someone, it's best to be single for a little while. Take stock of what you need, what's important to you. That, obviously, isn't an option with a baseball team in the middle of a pennant race. An interim manager, as rebound girl Hoffman has shown us, isn't the same as being single.
Throughout the year, you've seen me write about things that I think are important with regards to managing the game. These are the kinds of things I'd like to see the Dodger manager do. In a better world, these little things wouldn't matter - life and baseball would be completely rosy, and it would be all about the big picture again.
You've also seen me point out things I don't care about. For example, in a batting order, I like to see alternating left- and right-hand hitters as much as possible, to complicate the other team's use of its bullpen. But I don't particularly care about the order beyond that. The guy batting first is likely to get one more at-bat than the guy batting eighth - it could make a difference, but in most cases, it won't.
On the other hand, when one of your best hitters has been sitting most of the week, and stands before you in need of anything but a rest, yet you still find a way to keep him out of the lineup to start one of your worst hitters - as happened Sunday with Hee Seop Choi and Oscar Robles - add it to the list of reasons I don't want to be with you anymore.
It should go without saying that I want a manager who will either manage the team the way I think it should be managed, or transcends in such a manner that my beliefs don't matter. It should also go without saying that neither I, nor any other baseball writer, is right all the time.
If Jim Tracy told me he didn't think I was the right person to write about the Dodgers, I would respectfully disagree with him, and I think some of you would too, even though together we could make our own laundry list of Weisman woes, or Woesmans. I believe in myself. I expect Tracy to believe in himself.
I don't pretend that Jim Tracy hasn't forgotten more about baseball than I have ever known, though it's possible that I still might have some good ideas that he lacks.
The Dodgers can certainly win with Jim Tracy as their manager.
What I'm saying today, for the first time, is that I'm no longer committed to Jim Tracy as the Dodger manager. That doesn't mean I'm saying he should be fired. As readers of this site know, I don't believe in the "anyone's better than this" theory of personnel decisions. Especially if we can't be single, I want to know who's out there. And even when you know who's out there, as previous Dodger managers have shown, you never really do know who they are until after you've entered the relationship with them.
When I broke up with my college girlfriend, I was single for two years. (She found someone new right away, of course.) It was a depressing time. Eventually backslid with her a couple of times, knowing all the while that it wasn't right. Finding the right person is hard - and I was 30 before I found the one that I'm sticking with for the rest of my life.
But I am saying that right now, the spark I felt for Tracy is gone. I think the Dodgers can do better. Or I think Tracy and I can do better. Not perfect - never perfect - but better. The question for me is not whether something better is out there, either within this relationship or without it, but how long it will take to find it.
A Day With Milton Bradley
When Milton Bradley spoke at Lindbergh Middle School in Long Beach the other day - and then invited students to Dodger Stadium to celebrate the opening of the Milton Bradley Baseball Academy (which has a dual focus on athletics and academics) - Hank Waddles, who writes The Broken Cowboy column for Only Baseball Matters, was there for it all.
Among the many thoughts Bradley shared was this:
Right around this age, you start meeting people that are getting into the wrong thing, and maybe that Friday night, there's a party going on, and "Hey, wanna come to this party?" And you gotta tell 'em, "No, I got some work I gotta get done." You might tell 'em something else, but you know what the truth is. There were times, and I wasn't the most popular guy when I was in school, because I just had my backpack on with my books and I went to my next class, I was kind of that guy they called a nerd, but I don't think they look at me that way anymore.
June 5 Game Chat: A Chance To Win a Series
2005, The First Third: First and Third
Sprinting out to first place to start the season before falling back to third place in the National League West, the Dodgers end the first 33.33 percent of the 2005 season as a .500 team.
Here is a review of how 34 different players added up to absolutely average:
PA = plate appearances, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
Olmedo Saenz is Mr. Lightning in an ever-more-frequently-tapped bottle. He has the eighth-highest VORP - a cummulative stat - among major league first basemen, despite having half the plate appearances of each of the top seven. In the American League, he would be an All-Star candidate.
J.D. Drew may not be earning an $11 million salary and may appear not to hit in the clutch, but he has been the team's top offensive player, providing the most production of any full-timer. A .310 EQA is hard to quibble with. (Actually, I guess Drew proves that it's easy to quibble with. But it's still good.)
Milton Bradley has the fourth-best VORP of any major-league centerfielder. Though it's not like losing Scott Rolen in a collision, the Dodgers will miss Bradley while he's injured.
The statistics of Jeff Kent have been carried by his April performance, but without that April performance, the Dodgers might well be fighting off Colorado for the NL West cellar. Note that Kent's fielding contributions almost match those of Izturis.
Antonio Perez shows that .423 hitters are always nifty to have around. It's been fun.
Jason Phillips is neck-and-neck with Paul LoDuca in VORP.
Ricky Ledee has been better than expected, though he still doesn't hit enough for a full-time outfielder - which, with the injuries to Bradley and Jayson Werth, he has almost been. As a pinch-hitter, he has reached base in 8 of 13 appearances with a 1.252 OPS.
Hee Seop Choi has had a hot stretch sandwiched by two cold ones - thanks to his most recent slump and his Saenz-diminished playing time, he is without an extra-base hit for almost a month. Yet he is an above-average hitter, showing how overloaded the Dodgers are at first base. In theory, Saenz or Choi should be traded for pitching help.
Mike Edwards deserves no derision - a solid bench player in 2005 who has never wilted when forced to start. As a pinch-hitter, he is 3 for 4 with a walk.
Jose Valentin, with Kent, helped the Dodgers start 12-2.
Paul Bako has nearly been an average hitter for a catcher, which is much more than the Dodgers could have expected.
Jason Repko, like Edwards, did the Dodgers proud, considering he began March off the radar. He'd be a superb defensive replacement/pinch-runner/pinch-hitter against lefties for this team, if that were all the Dodgers needed.
Mike Rose has only played in one game. He made contact in all four plate appearances.
Oscar Robles couldn't do what Edwards could do - not embarrass the team. Instead, he did what some people expected Google to do after its IPO - simply crater.
Jayson Werth has hurt the team for the most part since returning from a long stay on the disabled list. Room for improvement.
Jason Grabowski just doesn't get the job done enough. As other players have shown, it's possible to have a positive impact in limited duty.
Norihiro Nakamura may rip it up in Las Vegas, but he amost had to work to do as poorly as he did in Los Angeles. If the outfield ever gets healthy, you could still see Nakamura take Repko's roster spot and get a second chance.
The Dodgers have 10 players with EQAs over .270, totaling all but 446 of their position players' plate appearances. Considering that the adequate catching platoon takes 210 plate appearances of that 446, this is quite good. Yes, some of the team's production has come in blowouts. The Dodgers have been held below three runs 16 times this season - which places them in the middle of major league teams and sandbags their high major-league runs (eighth) and OPS (ninth) rankings. The offense could be more consistent. But after accounting for the pitching-friendly environment the Dodgers play in, the offense remains an overall strength.
Since returning from the disabled list, Brad Penny has been the ace of the staff - and he hasn't even been at his best. His 4.6 strikeouts per nine innings is well below his career average. He is either still vulnerable physically, ready to absolutely take off and eliminate any remaining lament of the Paul LoDuca trade, or both.
Derek Lowe leads the team in innings and has been effective for most of them. The big inning tends to get him, but he has definitely been an asset.
Odalis Perez has been mediocre, failing to assuage any concerns over giving the injury-plagued pitcher with the declining strikeout rate a multi-year deal - except for the fact that the Dodgers are desperate even for his mediocrity. Does Perez have a career second (or third) wind in him?
Duaner Sanchez has been a solid but unexceptional middle reliever.
Yhency Brazoban goes up and down. His ERA soared after Eric Gagne returned from the disabled list. With his high strikeout rate, however, most signs remain encouraging.
Elmer Dessens shouldn't be a staff savior. Anyone counting on that from him when he returns from his rehabilitation is probably going to be disappointed. But he didn't hurt the Dodgers during his brief 2005 appearances.
Kelly Wunsch has allowed a lot of baserunners, but somehow he doesn't seem that bad. Our standards have been lowered since Tom Martin 2004.
Derek Thompson has been the Mike Edwards of the pitching staff, helping more than hurting when we didn't expect even to see him.
Eric Gagne may not be 100 percent, but striking out two batters an inning shows that something's still there. Imagine if he gets his act together.
Giovanni Carrara allowed his first home run of the season Friday. Right now, he just isn't able to keep people off base, though his strikeout and home run totals indicate he may be pitching in some bad luck. If I were more confident of him maintaining that strikeout and home run excellence, I'd be more confident of him improving as the season went on. As it is, he would ideally be the staff's 11th man.
Jeff Weaver: What can you say about a pitcher who has thrown 73 1/3 innings and has a VORP of 0.0. He has become the staff's Kazuhisa Ishii - reeling off six good innings here and there, but absolutely getting torched in the interim. He needs a solid month before there can be any confidence in him.
Wilson Alvarez in 2005 has been the pitcher you would have expected him to be in 2003, when his career appeared over. The Dodgers will hope the bullpen cures him.
Despite his moments of glory - much of which carried from his diving catch of a bunt in Milwaukee - Steve Schmoll doesn't appear to have the numbers to be a contributor this season.
D.J. Houlton - we'll wait until tonight's first career start, where the forces of his strikeout potential and ugly walks+hits/innings will collide, before rendering any kind of verdict.
Buddy Carlyle - was awful for the team, but I can't give up on the guy.
Scott Erickson - was awful for the team, and I can give up on the guy.
The VORP of every pitcher the Dodgers have used this year, except Penny and Lowe, adds up to 5.3. That's 13 pitchers combining to be the equivalent of less than Hee Seop Choi.
If the Dodgers let Perez get healthy, they might have a third starter. If Weaver can come back, they have a fourth starter. If Thompson or Dessens can give them five decent innings a game, they have a fifth starter.
Those are three big ifs. The team absolutely needs help in its starting rotation.
The bullpen needs help too, but the bullpen hasn't been as bad as the rotation, and solutions are easier to come by there.
Despite what he says in the press, Paul DePodesta certainly knows that unless the Dodgers figure out why they are giving up home runs at a record rate, the current pitching staff is inadequate. You have to appreciate that he isn't projecting desperation to the world - pointing out how bad the hurlers have been is not going to help him make a deal. But it's obvious that there isn't enough pitching help anywhere in the organization for the Dodgers to get by simply as is.
A deal doesn't have to be made today - the wild card race is essentially a tossup as we speak, and San Diego hasn't exactly clinched the division. (You might recall that a down-and-out 2004 NL West team in June gave the Dodgers quite a scare in September. The Giants were 27-27 on June 4, 2004.) But if the Dodgers want to play postseason baseball, something tangible needs to happen fairly soon: either a real solution to the gopher balls or replacements for them gopher flushers. Look for one or the other to come in the second third of the season.
Charting Gagne (June 4)
Eric Gagne, ninth inning, Dodgers leading 2-1
vs. Geoff Jenkins
0-0 93 fastball, just high
vs. Carlos Lee
vs. Lyle Overbay
vs. Bill Hall
18 pitches, 7 balls, 11 strikes
Gagne's fastball topped at 92 Thursday; he passed that five times tonight. At one point he threw six changeups in a row, getting strikes on three of them. The pitch that he allowed the double on had fire, and Lee did well to get a hit off of it.
DePodesta Working the Phones
Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta has begun looking for pitching help, though some more teams might need to fall out of the race for anything to happen, according to Mark Thoma of MLB.com.
DePodesta is prepared to part with some Dodger prospects, though of course he did not say which ones.
"We've already put some calls out there and had some initial conversations," he said. "Ideally, we'll be able to stabilize our starting pitching. Right now, that's probably the most important issue for us to address."
DePodesta and the Dodgers did their preseason budgeting with the possibility of midseason trades in mind, and DePodesta said that if help was acquired, it would probably be in exchange for Minor League talent, rather than key components of the Major League roster.
The biggest hurdle for the Dodgers front office at the moment is the paucity of players on the trading market. Only five Major League teams are more than 10.5 games out of first place in their respective divisions, and, with the Wild Card, many of the teams on the bubble aren't ready to sell just yet.
"A lot of teams, most times, aren't ready to do something until the end of June or early July at the earliest," DePodesta said. "There aren't many that consider themselves out of the race yet, and that certainly limits the number of available players."
Later in the article, DePodesta gives Dodger manager Jim Tracy and the coaching staff a vote of appreciation, saying they've done a "very good job."
June 4 Game Chat
Update: A rare low-scoring victory for the Dodgers tonight. They were 1-15 when scoring two runs or less going into this game (26-12 when scoring three runs or more). Congrats to the staff for a strong team pitching performance.
The 28-27 Dodgers are now 2-22 when scoring three runs or less, 26-5 when scoring four runs or more. In the wild-card race, they are 1 1/2 games out of the lead.
Ex-Dodger Brian Falkenborg allowed six runs without retiring a batter in the fifth inning of the Padres' 11-5 loss to Chicago tonight. Interestingly, two more ex-Dodgers, Dennys Reyes and Rudy Seanez, followed Falkenborg to the mound and combined for four shutout innings.
Meanwhile, ex-Dodgers Chan Ho Park and Jose Lima comic-dueled in Kansas City today, with Park improving to 6-1 on the season despite allowing six runs and 11 hits in five innings. Lima fell to 0-5, 8.39 by allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings.
Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne reviews Dodger Stadium, from its pre-1962 design to the 2005 renovations, in Sunday's editions of the paper.
The Reliever Reciprocity Rule, or Triple R, or RRR. It's very simple:
If you would use a reliever in a given moment in a game with a lead of X, you should use him with a deficit of X.
Close games are winnable, whether you are in the lead or trailing. If the reliever is available to work with a lead, he is available to work without a lead. If he needs to rest that game, he needs to rest no matter what.
This goes with the Just Get the Out Rule: Use your best reliever in a tight situation whenever it comes up. If you need an out - give yourself the best chance of getting the out. Worry about the rest later. Rest pitchers when they need to rest - not because you've rendered them irrelevant by using lesser pitchers.
The RRR. The Just Get the Out. Learn it. Know it. Live it.
June 3 Open Chat: Twoothless
Did you notice the Brewers lost by two runs again? They are now 0-9 in two-run games.
Preventing Good Starting Pitchers From Going Bad
Grading on a slight curve, Dodger rookie lefthander Derek Thompson has successfully navigated two starts. And it's that curve that's worth talking about this morning.
Thompson has lasted five innings in each, allowing two runs in one game and three runs in the other. He was not knocked out in either game, and in fact finished each start with a shutout inning. The reasons he left each game have been because he was due to go over 100 pitches in his sixth inning (95 pitches in game 1, 89 in game 2) and because his spot in the batting order happened to come up - each time with runners on base.
In other words, Thompson might have been able to get through one more inning on the mound, but it would not have been worth the risk to try under most circumstances, and certainly not with a scoring opportunity at hand. (Happily, pinch-hitter Mike Edwards delivered hits on both occasions.)
So there was every reason to be satisfied with Thompson's performances, though neither Thompson game was a quality start by the conventional definition - hence the curve. When your kid eats his veggies, you don't force seconds down his throat.
The downside of a pitcher throwing only five innings is that your bullpen is asked to throw nearly as many innings as your starter. But if this isn't occuring every day, it's hardly a problem. And in baseball, almost nothing occurs every day - that's the beauty of the game.
Meanwhile, the five-inning Thompson twins further illustrate the benefits of removing a questionable starting pitcher an inning early rather than an inning late. Yes, the Dodger bullpen sometimes bleeds like an ambushed Bonnie and Clyde and no, you wouldn't want to hit for Brad Penny in the fifth inning if he's cruising like it's PCH at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. The philosophy doesn't need to be taken to ridiculous extremes.
But, going into a game, if your starting pitcher's ERA is roughly the same as the middle relievers' ERA, by the time the sixth or seventh inning of a close game rolls around, fatigue is likely to have made your starter less effective than your middleman. Let me say this again: The starter who was a better pitcher than the reliever when the game began, who was a better pitcher than the reliever in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, in most cases goes from better to worse as the game enters the final innings.
So the bargain you strike when you let that starter pitch in the late innings - trying to eke out another effective inning from the guy who has already thrown five to seven, trying to spare your bullpen an extra inning of work, is like blowing your bubble gum past its breaking point. Your starting pitcher might not make it through his next inning, you'll have to go to your bullpen anyway, and you're facing a larger deficit - one sticky mess. If you sacrificed a pinch-hitting opportunity in the process, call up Don Rickles so that he can add the perfect insult to your injury.
As in the case of Thompson, the Dodgers need to be aware of the point where each of their starting pitchers goes from more effective than less effective than their relievers. It's not a matter of knowing the future, but rather understanding the probabilities. And of course, it's not going to be the same for Derek Lowe as it is for Jeff Weaver, for Brad Penny as it is for Odalis Perez. But that point comes for everyone - and you have to make your move before it comes.
If Giovannni Carrara or Duaner Sanchez is going to allow a run in his appearance, better that he does it before a starting pitcher self-destructs. The cost of taking a starter too soon is cheaper than the cost of taking him out too late.
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Update: All because I mentioned Don Rickles, people are sharing stories about Las Vegas in the comments. The stories about Vegas in the 70s made me think of my mother's father, Papa Erwin.
When I was eight years old, in 1976, Papa Erwin, who was a character out of a Damon Runyon story, got married at Circus Circus. (My mother's mother died in 1970). Seems to me that Circus Circus, by name alone, was the best hotel for a kid's first trip to Las Vegas. My memories, however, are really only of coming and going. We flew in from Los Angeles for the wedding, but my father had such a loathing for Las Vegas that he refused to stay the night, and we flew back the same evening.
My grandfather was a doctor theoretically, but the only thing anyone ever saw him practice was dealmaking. Something was always going on, and he never showed up at our house in the same automobile twice. It took about three years for my parents and aunt and uncle to sort out his estate after he died. (How did he die? A diabetic, he ate an entire strawberry shortcake one day in 1987 and went into a coma that he never came out of.)
When my mom was a girl, and it was my grandfather's turn to make her lunches, he would give my mom and her sisters Hershey bars, and they would trade for their lunch at school.
I can still hear Papa Erwin's voice, clear as the clearest day, whenever I think of him giving his idea of a French lesson. "Parlez-vous français? Chevrolet coupé?"
Eric Gagne vs. Milwaukee, ninth inning, 6-3 Dodgers
vs. Dave Krynzel
vs. Chris Magruder
vs. Lyle Overbay
vs. Brady Clark
vs. Jeff Cirillo
vs. Geoff Jenkins
27 pitches, 12 balls, 15 strikes
True Blue vs. True Brew
Now those Brewers, they've got some nice ERAs. Staff ERA is 3.48. Capuano ($340,000), Santos ($420,000) and Obermuller ($342,000) - nothing pitchers a year ago - have given Milwaukee three-fifths of a staring rotation for $1,102,000. And the Breweres outscored opponents by 28 runs this season. But they're only 25-27.
Problem? In games decided by two runs or less, Milwaukee is 8-16. In games decided by two runs, the Brewers are 0-8.
For a team with a losing record, Milwaukee is a good team. Will we be saying the same thing in a few hours about the Dodgers?
Home Runs Are Breaking the Dodgers' Back
If you aim, you miss.
That's the peculiarity of throwing a ball. Whether trying to hit a split end on a square out 15 yards away, or trying to hit the first baseman from the hole at shortstop, if you consciously aim as you throw, the mechanics of throwing will actually push the ball away from your target. It's a fine distinction. Your physical follow-through needs to be toward your receiver, but the mental process of aiming needs to be completed before you throw.
Pitching has its own unique qualities that distinguish it from quaterbacking or even infield play, but the axiom remains - you can't aim while pitching. You have to pick your spot before you make your pitch. You get the ball to your correct location not by aiming it as you throw but because over time, with practice, you have made the mechanics of getting a ball to a particular spot intuitive - without aiming as you throw.
Whether this is the main problem with a Dodger pitching staff that is on its way to posting the worst team ERA in Los Angeles history, by a wide margin, isn't clear. But Wednesday night, Derek Lowe acknowledged as much.
"When you play in a pitcher-friendly park like we do and you give up that many home runs, there is only one reason for it," Lowe told Tony Jackson of the Daily News. "It's probably poor pitching, leaving the ball out over the plate. I can't speak for the other 11 guys, but I tried to throw Neifi Perez a 2-0 changeup, which was the right pitch to call there. But instead of going down and away like it was supposed to, it was over the inner half. Home run."
Similarly, Duaner Sanchez, eighth-inning pitching in a one-run game with two runners on against the Cubs' Derrek Lee, who leads the league in all three Triple Crown categories (yet strangely, was not listed among several Triple Crown candidates in the print edition of the latest USA Today Sports Weekly), left a 2-1 pitch hovering smack in the middle of the plate, the last place he could have possibly wanted it to be. The three-run home run by Lee gave Chicago nine runs for the game and all but sealed the Dodger defeat.
The encouraging thing is that this problem would seem solvable. But the discouraging thing is that, according to Jackson, Dodger pitching coach Jim Colburn isn't sure what the answer is - which would seem to imply that in addition to the location issue, movement and speed of the Dodger pitches have also been inadequate.
Going into the season, we knew that most of this Dodger pitching staff was not a strikeout staff, that it was going to depend on its fielders to make plays. The consolation was that, despite offseason media reports to the contrary, the Dodgers offered above-average defense in the outfield and up the middle to make those plays.
But it all self-destructs if the ball is flying out of the ballpark. And the home runs allowed by Dodger pitchers are undoubtedly the reason they have been losing about two of every three games for weeks. Since May 1, no major league team has allowed more home runs than the Dodgers: 42 in May plus two in June.
Interestingly, Dodger pitchers have been among the best in baseball since May in not walking batters - fewer than three per game - making one wonder if they are either challenging too many batters at the wrong times, or not properly wasting their waste pitches. Last year, however, the team only walked 3.2 batters per game, while allowing home runs at an average rate.
In any case, of all the problems plaguing the team, the single most important - more than the offense or the manager - is for the team to have a pitching staff that keeps the ball in the ballpark. If this problem can be solved - the season remains alive. If it can't, nothing else matters.
While no one expected the 2005 Dodger pitching staff to be the best in baseball, there is little objective reason to think they should be the worst. Of course, real life has been known to sneer at objective reason from time to time.
Update: Some of the suggestions commenters are making about personnel changes (remember - I said "some") are contradictory. The Dodgers need to see if these kids can perform now, otherwise they have no future? That doesn't make sense. You want to go with the young kids, but cut D.J. Houlton? Why? His 7-plus ERA in the majors is so much worse than Edwin Jackson's 7-plus ERA in Las Vegas? Houlton has no chance to get better - you know this already - but meanwhile, let's give the kid - any kid - from the pitching-friendly AA his shot?
What happens if the new kid can't do the job? Does he get tossed aside too?
I think this is where we as a "think tank" start to lose our credibility. Pointing out underperfomers is one thing, change for the sake of change isn't without value when you're replacing something awful, but there needs to be some rationality. Would you accept a plan from Paul DePodesta that is essentially throwing darts at a dartboard - disposable darts at that?
Nothing was expected from the Dodger minor league pitchers, with the possible exception of the now-faltering Jackson, before 2006. It's a very young group that got slowed down by the injuries to Greg Miller and Joel Hanrahan. The fact that the major leaguers are not performing isn't going to make the minor leaguers get better sooner.
Speaking just for myself, I've got all the patience in the world to watch kids like Jackson take their lumps. If you're not sure if you have it, ask yourself what it would have been like to be a fan of the 2003 Detroit Tigers. They went with the kids for their pitching staff. Jeremy Bonderman might be nice to look at now, but that team was not a pretty sight.
If you're already ready to give up on Houlton, that's a clear signal that you don't have the stomach to endure the level of performance the kid pitchers are likely to produce. You're asking for misery. And where do you go from there? You can't cut everybody.
So what am I saying? Factor in your potential disappointment in the minor league callups before you call them up. The minor league pitching might help a little in 2005, but ultimately the solution to the Dodgers' pitching problems has to come from major league talent - that of the Dodgers or some other team.
What Makes You Think I'm Pregnant?
This is the game chat thread. Do I need to label them anymore? I'm thinking it may be apparent by now that every thread can be an open chat, and the ones with the link to "Today's Game" or "Tonight's Game" are the game chat threads.
* * *
Talking about the wild card in May or June is about as tasteful as asking a slightly plump woman when her baby is due, but whether the Dodgers are with wild card race or still in the sanctity of the divisional pursuit, here I am bringing it up.
National League Wild Card Standings
I'll have more to say when I'm back writing Dodger Thoughts at full steam, but for now, it's worth pointing out that every team on that list has some big flaws.
Of course, losing Milton Bradley just as the Dodgers get back Jayson Werth isn't helping matters locally.
Tuesday night, the Dodgers lost a one-run game for the first time since April 26, and failed to take advantage of their first fine start-to-finish team pitching performance in almost as long. (They held a team below three runs for the first time in 25 games.) As far as Dodger May was concerned, it was an atypical game with a typical result.
Derek Thompson made a successful major league debut for the Dodgers last week after a promotion from AA ball. Tonight, the Dodgers will try to prevent Chicago's John Koronka from doing the same.
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for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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