Monthly archives: August 2005
The Stomach for It
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Stories like Milton Bradley's domestic troubles are essentially why I left full-time sportswriting.
It wasn't as if I couldn't do them. I just didn't want them. But if you do the job, you have to take them.
I had been working at the Daily News for more than two years when I began applying for graduate school in English and creative writing. I loved sportswriting, but I didn't much like the responsibility of needing to beat the Times with any bad news on my beat: a coach getting fired, someone getting arrested, a high school athlete dying in competition (which sadly happened once).
That being said, I was still working toward the long-term goal of becoming a columnist and the more immediate carrot of the soon-to-be-available UCLA beat, for which I was next in line. So I was willing to do the grunt work. For that matter, the belief that once I got a story, even a tough story, that I would tell the story better than anyone else, buoyed me.
Then Fred Roggin got himself in trouble.
I woke up on a Friday morning, like virutally every morning during my Daily News career, with that slightly nervous feeling in my stomach that wouldn't be eased until I saw the Times hadn't beaten me on a story. This Friday morning, it had. Leading Larry Stewart's TV-radio column was the news that Roggin, the KNBC sportscaster, had checked into drug rehab. Blissfully ignorant, my media column led with changes at The Sporting News.
I came downcast into work that day, churning over the reaction I would get from Rick Vacek, then the Daily News sports editor. The grief I got was even worse than I had expected. Apparently, I was the most clueless person in Los Angeles for not knowing that Roggin's need to detox was imminent.
I tried to imagine what I was supposed to do - stake out every broadcaster in Los Angeles every night and see what they were sniffing? I know there are some reporters who live for this stuff, but that was not what I got into sportswriting to do.
Later, I heard second-hand (I never verified it) that Stewart had gotten a tip on his answering machine - he wasn't even home when it happened - about Roggin's situation, the lesson being that I didn't need to build a wardrobe of trench coats as much as a bigger Rolodex of contacts, who would keep me informed. The reminder didn't console me much.
On another Friday, a few weeks later, Vacek told me I wouldn't get the UCLA beat. They were going to go outside the paper to hire someone (it ended up being Mark Alesia of the Press-Enterprise, if memory serves). Vacek told me I needed more seasoning. I said I had broken plenty of stories and that I didn't think this decision was right.
Vacek then said, essentially, that he was tired of staffers coming into his office all the time asking for promotions, which astonished me. Ambition was now a character flaw. This was too much. I was 24 years old. I was way the hell too old to listen to that kind of blustering.
An acceptance from the Master's in English program at Georgetown already in hand, I decided to give my two week's notice on my way back to my desk and officially did so Monday morning.
I paid a pretty steep price for going my own way. Peers of mine at the Daily News and the Times, not to mention writers a decade younger, are all over the place holding major beats and writing columns and appearing on radio and television. And in the years that passed, I learned that almost no job is perfect. They each tend to come with their own stresses or unpleasantness or lack of fulfillment, in one fashion or another.
Obviously, that did not close the door on my writing about sports completely, and it's nice to do it now on my own terms. At times, I had regrets about what happened way back then, and felt I should have toughed it out. I have tremendous respect for those who take on the challenges of reporting, whether it's Milton Bradley or Hurricane Katrina, with diligence and grace. But when I saw the latest Bradley story Monday morning, I was quite happy to be where I was.
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Somewhat along those lines and yet far afield, or a-ice, there's this tidbit from my pal Derek Smart at Cub Town:
My new favorite for "Most Surreal Moment of the Year" is the snippet of seventh-inning conversation that occurred in the Cubs' television broadcast booth as Len Kasper and Bob Brenly began by talking to Ron Cey about his nickname, "The Penguin," and then veered into a discussion of the film, "March of the Penguins".
The thing is, it wasn't so much the fact that they talked about the movie that was strange, it was the enthusiasm that Cey himself brought to the deal. If you're not just a little bit amused by Ron Cey talking about what a hardship it would be to have to walk seventy miles across Antarctica after sitting on an egg and starving for four months, you don't have a sense of humor.
The stomach for it, indeed!
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Henry Blanco??? Heavens to Murtontroid, the Dodgers got beat by Henry Blanco.
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Update: There are two great columns on Baseball Prospectus today, one by a mystified Dayn Perry on how football can possibly be considered more entertaining to attend than baseball, the other by Joe Sheehan on Jim Bowden. Bowden, who once fancied himself as a Dodger general manager candidate, is taking zero responsibility for the slump of his current team, the Washington Nationals.
For Bowden to call out the players for their "failure" is a bad joke. The Nationals can't score because, lo and behold, Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman suck. Who, other than Bowden, didn't see that one coming? His stamp on this team is lot of money given to bad baseball players. Publicly calling out those players is a shameful attempt to deflect blame from how poorly he did his job over the winter.
You know what else I realized in reviewing the research by Caleb (Peiffer)? Omar Minaya is having one hell of a year. Not only is his new team, the Mets, in contention for a playoff spot, but this Nationals team is largely his. Johnson, John Patterson, Livan Hernandez, Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Ryan Church, Gary Majewski all of these guys are having very good years for the Nats, and all of them were Minaya pickups. Omar Minaya is a hell of a lot more responsible for the success the Nationals are having than Bowden is.
On Sunday, Bowden said, "There's a lot of guys who can score no runs in a game." If there's anyone who knows how to find them, it's Jim Bowden.
I'm sure there would be plenty of Paul Depodesta detractors in Los Angeles happy to see Bowden come - thank goodness Bowden has the black mark of acquiring chemistry-free Jose Guillen on his record.
Is This Mike On?
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Bypassing the issue of Hee Seop Choi, we find that batting sixth and playing third base tonight is Mike Edwards, who has neither the offensive nor defensive statistics nor reputation to justify starting twice in three games.
In earlier months, we would have held out for an explanation for such a deployment, but we were often disappointed. That doesn't mean there isn't an explanation tonight. Electroshock me when it comes.
Second-Inning Update: From the comments ...
47. Jon Weisman
76. Jon Weisman
In my rooting in 47, I chose the Dodgers over justice. Dodgers 1, Justice 0.
99. Jon Weisman
Bradley ... Done
Milton Bradley was not convicted of domestic abuse in 2005, but this report of incidents at his home by Larry Altman in the Daily Breeze (tip from L.A. Observed) makes it so that I would feel extremely naive if I tried to support him any further.
"Police have responded to the Redondo Beach home of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley three times this summer on domestic violence calls, including one instance in which he allegedly choked his pregnant wife, bloodied her lip and hurled a cellular telephone into a wall," Altman writes.
I wish the best for Bradley and his family. But even though this is an off-the-field incident, and no court of law has tossed any new convictions at him, I don't think I'm interested any more in seeing Bradley work out his problems with the Dodgers. His problems now appear more serious than I realized, and unless this Daily Breeze report is completely misleading, there isn't time for him to work them out before the Dodgers would need to make a decision on him - a decision, many press accounts say, they have already made.
It's never over 'til it's over, but it appears over.
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Valentin ... done as well?
I wonder if, like Odalis Perez, Jose Valentin has somehow shared more with the media than with management about his physical condition.
In any case, largely by his own account in this Times article by Steve Henson, Valentin appears in no shape to be playing right now.
Valentin was expected to play every day at third base, but an injury to his right knee put him on the disabled list from May 4 to July 31. He wears a brace that he said affects his mobility and his swing. ...
"The brace keeps me from swinging the way I want," he said. "I can't generate power. I can't twist the way I want. It won't let me."
If defense were the only issue, perhaps it would be a different story. As Ken Gurnick writes on MLB.com, Valentin "robbed (Derrek) Lee of a sharp hit that might have turned the Cubs' one-run eighth inning into something much larger."
Jim Tracy told Allison Ann Otto of the Press-Enterprise that Antonio Perez would see some starts at third base as long as Derek Lowe or Jeff Weaver weren't pitching. Those pitchers induce a high proportion of ground balls (by reputation, anyway - they also lead the team in home runs allowed by a wide margin.)
"There's been some times where [Perez has] had some difficulty," Tracy told Otto. "Is it fair to the club, is it fair to the starting pitcher that's out there on a given night that is a dead sinkerball pitcher?"
Weaver's ratio of groundouts to flyouts in 2005 is 1.01, the lowest of his career. Lowe's ratio, on the other hand, is 3.04 - a considerable difference from Weaver's. Brad Penny is actually higher than Weaver, at 1.40.
D.J. Houlton, by comparison is at 0.79.
Since returning from the disabled list, Valentin is OPSing .499. His on-base percentage of .293 could be worse, but his slugging percentage is a miasmic .206. It's hard to imagine that Valentin's defense at third base justifies his appearance in the lineup over Perez when anyone but Lowe starts a game, if even then.
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Houlton, by the way, pitched Monday the way you're supposed to pitch with a 6-0 second-inning lead - he avoided walks. Ultimately, his inability to avoid giving up home runs forced him out of the game before the end of the sixth inning, and reports after the game indicated he did not feel comfortable with his stuff. But his approach was on the money: of the 25 batters he faced in the game, Houlton went to a three-ball count to only one.
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Ron: I get to ask a question. Seth, are your fingers straight and balanced because I was on your site today, and you have more information! But I'm, no offense, I'm no computer geek. I know nothing about computers. I get on them just for my personal business and then I'm off. I don't know much about it. My wife knows everything about the computer. I ask her questions. She does it for me. How in the world do you get all that information - all of you guys - into the computer? And who do you correspond with? That... That's UNbelievable! You guys should be general managers in the league is what you should be.
Seth: We like to think we should be too! But to answer your question, I guess, I'm worried mainly about carpal tunnel syndrome. ...
Ron: Now, I did get to meet your girlfriend today. She seemed happy with you and everything is fine. But with all that information, you can't see her that much.
Seth: Thats, actually, my sister. So, so...
Ron: Maybe that's why she's happy!
Coomer and Stohs ... that's chemistry. Thanks to Baseball Musings for pointing it out.
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Thanks for all your great thoughts. Jay is fighting hard, and we all have faith that he will come out swinging hard. I am the one organizing his fundraiser. Bills are high. This small town has so far raised $2600.00, and the Bike/Poker run is still 2 weeks away (September 10). I challenge the ball players and or Dodgers to match me dollar for dollar for what I can raise. It would be small change for them, and would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be made to Jayson Whitehouse, C/O Sue Asselin Motorcycle Run, 308 Main Street, Farmington, NH 03835. Info at firstname.lastname@example.org (or at this website). Thanks again for you prayers.
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And on the seventh day, a god was benched.
"I don't know why Jack didn't play. I really don't know," said Rachel Robinson, the great man's wife, who was in attendance at Sunday's 50th anniversary celebration. "That was 50 years ago, buddy." ...
Alston, who had his problems dealing with the sometimes-explosive Robinson, had considered benching him even before the World Series started. This after an injury-riddled season during which Robinson slumped to .256 with eight homers, 35 RBIs and 12 steals in 105 games, all either matching or setting low-water marks for his 10-year career.
Even so, Leo Durocher, Robinson's former manager, said Alston would be making a big mistake if he didn't start Robinson.
"The Dodgers are not yet ready to win without him, no matter what the calendar says," (Robinson biographer Arnold) Rampersad quotes Durocher as saying at the time. "Keeping the amazing leadership that is Robinson's on the shelf would be like pinch-hitting for (Babe) Ruth in the clutch."
But it happened. Robinson was 4 for 22 with a double, triple and two walks in the first six games of the '55 Series, and Alston replaced him with 27-year-old Don Hoak, who had walked in his only Series appearance to that point. Hoak went 1 for 3 with another walk, while Robinson never got off the bench until the final celebration.
In 1956, the finale of Robinson's career, he hit .275 in the regular season (107 OPS+) and then went 6 for 24 with a home run and five walks in the 1956 World Series.
Alston managed for 23 seasons and finished with a winning percentage of .525 or better in 19 of them. He was 20-20 in World Series games, winning four Series out of seven.
Oisk with the Anth
Carl Erskine playing the national anthem on the harmonica? That's all the stadium atmosphere you need.
And Vin Scully calling himself "his nibs?" Speaks for itself.
Anyone remember when Fox did the travel-through-TV-technology broadcast of a Dodgers-Cubs game around five years ago? Bonus points if you can name the Dodger starting pitcher.
Guess it was convenient that the controversial Craig Biggio HBP-NA happened during the replay era of the telecast. Although the air of mystery had it happened without a replay - well, no different than it was for the folks actually in attendance.
And one more thing: Did the Aflac trivia answer actually make the claim that Frank Robinson was a member of the '55 Dodgers? Duck.
The stuff about Jim Tracy's postgame reflections in Tim Brown's Times column today is interesting, but Brown's lines about Jeff Kent and Milton Bradley are the most provocative:
Kent should have known Bradley wouldn't react well to badgering, and here's something to think about: Maybe Kent did. He had to see Bradley cracking, had to know Bradley's reputation for responding poorly to criticism, yet Kent continued to ride him to a predictable outcome.
It's either speculation or information on background. Either way, it's charged material.
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Chemistry and character have dominated the discussion this week. They've been lumped together, in an increasingly bothersome way.
There's a difference between saying that the members of the Dodger roster don't mix well together and that they aren't stand-up individuals. The former seems to have been some kind of problem in that the players might not have brought out the best in each other, though how many losses this actually translated to is unclear.
I have still yet to be shown that character was the downfall of the team in 2005.
In hindsight, would you trade Milton Bradley for Steve Finley? Would you trade Jeff Kent for Alex Cora?
Don Newcombe talks to Bill Plaschke today about the anger that led Newcombe to start throwing knockdown pitches at an entire lineup of opposing batters, about balking at pitching batting practice as directed during the hallowed 1955 season. Who would suggest that Newcombe didn't belong on the Dodgers?
I value character. But I also recognize complexity. Character is not, forgive the phrase, black and white.
Scully, Koufax and Lasorda
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I've certainly never thought of Tommy Lasorda on the same level as Vin Scully or Sandy Koufax, but I guess he did play as important a role as anyone in popularizing the Dodgers through the 1970s and 1980s, afer Scully was established and Koufax had departed the scene.
From Bob Keisser of the Long Beach Press-Telegram:
It isn't a reach for Dodgers fans to think in religious terms when assessing the value of the three precious gifts Brooklyn gave Los Angeles when the Dodgers moved here in 1958.
Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax and Tommy Lasorda turned out to be as valuable here as gold, frankincense and myrrh - consider them the Three Wise Men of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.
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Paul DePodesta falls on his sword throughout the media world this morning, without specifics.
Will Jim Tracy show any accountability for the disappointment of 2005? Frank McCourt on Friday, DePodesta on Saturday. It would seem to be Tracy's turn at the plate.
Today's Bright Spot: Dioner Navarro
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A .393 on-base percentage? It continues to be a promising start.
The 21 steals allowed in 22 games, we'll wait and see about.
Chemotherapy Continues for Dodger Draft Pick
Friends of Jayson Whitehouse, a local baseball player who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and diagnosed with cancer this summer, have organized a 75-mile fund-raising Poker Ride/Fun Run for him in September. ...
"Right now, things are going well," said Don Dinwoodie, who coached baseball at Farmington High School until 2004 and watched Whitehouse play baseball in town for years before. ...
Dimwoodie said Whitehouse started his third round of weeklong chemotherapy treatments on Aug. 22 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Whitehouse will return home to recover from the sessions, as he has previously, he said. ...
Sue Asselin, who organized the event with Dinwoodie, said 100 percent of the proceeds from the fund-raiser will go to help Whitehouse pay for treatments, medication and other expenses not covered by insurance.
"He's the next Lance Armstrong," Asselin said. Whitehouse plans to go back to college in the spring and will return to playing baseball, she added. ...
Good to Know
"No question, the biggest lesson I've learned so far is the importance of character in building a winning baseball team," McCourt repeated.
Does this mean it will be more of a factor in personnel decisions?
"No question," he said.
No matter what sort of cool numbers are spit from Paul DePodesta's computer?
"I think Paul, for some of the reasons I experienced, now sees things in a different light," said McCourt.
- Bill Plaschke in the Times
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It's good to know that one bad week the entire season means that Milton Bradley has inadequate character to wear a Dodger uniform.
That Jeff Kent, the gritty, let's-just-win ballplayer publicly accused at worst by Bradley not of racism, but of insensitivity, who even merited T.J. Simers' nearly inexistent seal of approval, has inadequate character.
That J.D. Drew, a God-fearing man who happens to have a quiet side, has inadequate character.
That because Bradley got mad, Ricky Ledee has inadequate character.
That because Bradley got mad, Jason Phillips has inadequate character.
That the problem of Jose Valentin, the team's cheerleader, is inadequate character. Not whether he has any talent left. Clearly, Paul DePodesta signed Valentin only for those remarkable 2004 stats he posted.
That Jason Repko, the former first-round pick who struggled for years to make the bigs but never gave up even when others did, has inadequate character.
That Mike Edwards, who worked his way from the ground floor to make it to the show, has inadequate character.
That Kelly Wunsch, the book-reading, crossword-puzzle-filling, pitch-every-day reliever, has inadequate character.
And so on ...
But Frank McCourt, who has spent nearly every single day of his ownership promoting his family while ignoring or scapegoating their shortcomings, and Plaschke, who can't seem to resist making smarmy, undignified remarks against those who don't fit his agenda (but who tolerate his insults stoically), they're qualified to make judgments on character. They've got it all figured out.
Good to know.
Update: To clarify, my point is not to say that good character or good clubhouse atmosphere isn't worth striving for. If this article had just been about Bradley, I wouldn't have felt compelled to comment on it. I just don't understand how the Bradley incident gets to be used as evidence that, as Plaschke writes, that character was underestimated in building this team.
Update 2: The press notes are loaded every day with notices of Dodgers serving the community. Oscar Robles sacrificed part of his baseball career to help his family in a time of need. But still, the Dodgers underestimate character.
Is self-sacrifice not part of what the Dodger uniform was supposed to stand for? Or do Robles' actions indicate weakness? After all, Plaschke has regularly lamented the departure of Guillermo Mota, who pleaded no contest to reckless driving after a DUI arrest. But what a setup man he was.
I sense I'm overreacting to Plaschke's column today - but I just feel the counterpoints need to be made. Certainly, the Dodgers have made some mistakes in the past year. But let's keep it in perspective.
Update 3: Thanks to reader Brian Greene for providing these excerpts from a Plashcke column of April 5, 2004.
A team suffering from serious ownership credibility can show that at least the new general manager is trying. Milton Bradley is the Dodgers' best overall hitter. Right now. Period. ... the Indians are thrilled to rid themselves of a guy they had essentially thrown off the team last week for bad behavior. To which I reply with two words: Gary Sheffield. One of the best pure hitters to sit in the Dodger dugout in many years, he was traded for being a miscreant, a move that was originally applauded in this space until the ensuing losing taught me better.
The idea of clubhouse chemistry having evaporated after 15 years of feel-good failures, it is time to face the nasty truth. The Dodgers need some jerks who can play... One thing Bradley hasn't done is fight with his teammates... The Dodgers are acquiring Bradley not for his leadership, but his knocks... "We have looked closely at Milton, and we think he will be fine in the clubhouse," DePodesta said."
Hindsight: Revisiting the 2004 Free Agent Pitchers
Seems a good a time as any to take a look back ... from November 9, 2004:
Here's a peek at 28 pitchers available on the free-agent market. Though it leaves off such players like hometown loyalist Roger Clemens and reclamation projects like Hideo Nomo and Shane Reynolds, and of course doesn't consider players available in trade, it still should give you a good idea of what's out there.
Mike Edwards has been recalled and Milton Bradley has officially been placed on the 15-day disabled list, according to the Dodger press notes.
Also from the notes: the Dodgers are tied with the New York Mets for the major league lead in pinch hits, with 49. Ricky Ledee's .435 average leads all individuals with 10 pinch at-bats or more.
Tag - You're No Longer It
The nominal tag on Milton Bradley is hotheaded, but he's moving further toward developing a second tag that could prove more damaging for him long-term: injury-riddled.
True, it hasn't stopped J.D. Drew from a big payday, but it's certainly going to slow Bradley down. Bradley, 27, is eligible for salary arbitration once again this offseason. The continued presence of hotheaded, injury-riddled Odalis Perez shows that Bradley's departure is no foregone conclusion, but there's certainly a question of whether the Dodgers will tender an arbitration offer to Bradley or relinquish his rights, and should they do the latter, his 2006 earnings will no doubt diminish from what he could have expected one week ago.
The Dodgers will need to make a baseball decision about Bradley, not a therapeutic one. But - and I'll apologize in advance for being soft on this one - if Bradley does leave, I'll be disappointed for non-baseball reasons. For all his problems, I have found Bradley's story so compelling ever since he became a Dodger, I don't want to see it play out somewhere else. I want to see the third act here. Not to gawk, but because I think there's value in the resolution. For all the talk about how difficult Bradley's presence has been in the Dodger clubhouse, I think that the team would become stronger, more cohesive, if they see this through. I think we'd all learn something.
And I know many have lost patience with him, and I don't begrudge that. But I'm still rooting for him. His emotions may not all be pleasant ones, but I just feel his struggle. I can't justify it beyond that; I can't be rational about it.
But the Dodgers will need to make a baseball decision. Bradley, to a lesser extent than Drew, is a good ballplayer when healthy. Despite playing only 75 games this year, he has been the Dodgers' fourth-most valuable player statistically, according to Baseball Prospectus. (Drew, at 72 games, is third behind Jeff Kent and Brad Penny.) And not only do I believe that Bradley and Kent can co-exist on the same team, I think they can make each other and the team better.
Bradley's 2006 salary has to factor in his health, however. And I'm not sure how that's going to go.
Update: Will Carroll on Bradley at Baseball Prospectus:
Let's see - they've tried holy water, sacrificing a live chicken, and Marie Laveau. I'm not sure what the next step for curse removal is for the Dodgers. Milton Bradley is headed for surgery on a near-full thickness tear of his patellar tendon and damage to his ACL, a significant injury that will end his season and likely impact him in 2006 as well. Bradley hurt his knee Monday on an awkward baserunning play, though this doesn't seem like an injury that just happened; it's more the type of thing where the hyperextension was the straw that broke the camel's knee. Was Bradley injured on his "you didn't score from second!" play? That's an interesting question. The other question is, could Bradley continue to play with this injury. Yes, he could, especially with bracing, though much of that would be determined by pain tolerance, risk tolerance, and unfortunately the perception of intolerance. Whether he will or not should be determined in the next couple days.
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Say hello to D.J. "Bright Spot" Houlton. Since the All-Star Break, the 26-year-old is 0-5 but with a 3.48 ERA, a .227 opponents batting average, 45 hits-plus-walks allowed in 41 1/3 innings, and averaging 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Maybe pitching without run support somehow suits him - in the past eight games Houlton has pitched, the Dodgers have scored 14 runs.
Ideally, the Dodger rotation next season would be strong enough that Houlton would have to compete for a job rather than have one handed to him. But competition the 2006 rotation right now only offers staff ace Brad Penny, staff inconstants Perez and Derek Lowe, and the best of Edwin Jackson and the minor league Superfriends. Jeff Weaver, inning-eater, will almost certainly price himself outside of the Dodgers' interest, though you have to imagine that Paul DePodesta will bring in a front-line pitcher through a trade. That still leaves it plenty likely that Houlton will be counted on as a regular cast member.
By the way, Penny may miss a start as soon as next week, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. "Penny also said he's been told his appeal of a five-game suspension will be heard in Chicago next week," Gurnick wrote. "Penny was suspended for arguing after umpire Rob Drake ejected him from a July 14 contest."
Update: Anyone headed to Arizona this fall? Dodgers playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League (according to Baseball America) include Jackson, Chad Billingsley, Greg Miller, Tony Abreu, Andy LaRoche, Matt Kemp and James Loney.
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Blame it partly on Six Feet Under, but this morning I found myself googling Jim Bertken, the first friend of mine to die young. It was an unexpected twist to an admittedly downcast week for me to find from the results that today is the 10th anniversary of his drowning. Dave Strege of the Register has a column about the tragedy.
Jim was also the first person in what I considered my generation with kids, and he was a great father. Jim was funny, and Jim was good. He was someone truly rich to know.
Jawin' Milton and Manual Kent
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What can I say? I think T.J. Simers has Kent v. Bradley covered. The best part about Simers' story is, he just lays out what he understands and doesn't try to draw conclusions about what he doesn't.
For those of you who are sure that either Milton Bradley or Jeff Kent will be gone by next season, remember that people said the same thing about Bradley last year and Odalis Perez, oh, every six months or so.
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Luke Hochevar? I don't know. Seems like a $2.5 million signing bonus should be enough for the Dodgers' top draft pick. Even if his value were to go up during his senior year of school, Hochevar doesn't figure to make all that money back. Since he's reportedly requesting $4 million now, his next team would basically have to pay him a bonus of at least $6.5 million to make the holdout financially prudent. That's 160 percent more than the Dodgers' current offer, when Hochevar will have less leverage.
If the Dodgers and Hochevar both want to see him in the team's system now, it would be silly for a contract not to be signed. But senior year can be a priceless experience - just ask me or Matt Leinart. So I won't criticize Hochevar if he stays in school.
Update: Tennessee coach Rod Delmonico believes Hochevar is returning to school, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
The 21-year-old from Fowler, Colo., enrolled for fall-semester classes at UT, but didn't attend his first-day classes on Wednesday. The Dodgers would lose their rights to Hochevar once he attends a class.
"He's got until next Friday to get in school and be OK," Delmonico said. "He is eligible. If he starts school, it's over (with the Dodgers) and he's back for his senior year. That's all I know."
Update 2: That $6.5 million figure mentioned above isn't right.
Triple Me This
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Who will win the hallowed title of 2005 Dodger Triples Champion?
The current standings:
The Dodgers rank 26th in baseball with 15 triples, two more than Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay.
Comedy, Drama and Baseball
Monday brought another episode of a 2005 Dodger season that has had all the artistic merit of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.
With the game long over by the time the kids were in bed, I was free to contemplate other things. While doing some household chores, I came upon the first half of one of the greatest hours of television ever, Part 1 of the Season 1 finale of Cheers.
Cheers had almost no audience at its start, and most of us watching back then found ourselves members of a club too good to be true. That first season was romantic comedy at its highest televised form, a spiritual descendent (not that I knew it then) of Much Ado About Nothing that was flat-out brilliant, that melted euphorically in your consciousness.
By the end of its decade-plus run, I came to detest Cheers, which arguably suffered television's greatest creative fall from grace ever. Few programs, if any, went from intelligent to adle-brained with such depressing clarity - the comedy's signature sophisticated banter and heart replaced by one character humiliation or enfeebled contest with Gary's Old Towne Tavern after another. Those were the Kevin Malone years of Cheers.
But during the early 1980s, I would record Cheers and Hill Street Blues for my brother, who was away at college without a television set, and we would watch them in marathon sessions during his vacations. And then, when he went back to school, I would watch the tapes again and again. This season finale, in which Sam almost loses Diane to his brother, "a man like any other man ... you would find in Greek mythology," made such an indeliable impression on me that years later, while struggling on a long bike ride, I diverted myself from my exhaustion by reciting the entire finale in my head, line-by-line.
Nerd? Sure thing. But nerd for a good cause. There was a sweetness to those early Cheers episodes to be cherished.
At the same time, not even the best television makes makes me jump up and down like a pogo stick, the way watching Fernando Valenzela's no-hitter or Steve Finley's grand slam did. Baseball has a power that comedy and drama do not.
And the reverse is true as well.
A half-hour after the Cheers rerun ended, I watched the series finale of Six Feet Under. Not everyone likes Six Feet Under, and some who once did have turned on it (or felt the show has turned on them, like I feel with Cheers). Six Feet Under isn't perfect, but some people seem to grow impatient with it not because of quality issues, but because the characters never healed. Time and again, in dealing with difficult, tragic topics, the writing has been surgically precise.
Regardless, I was prepared for just about any kind of misery in the series finale. For the most part, we got a welcome catharsis. But then there was the epilogue, which laid out the future deaths of all the main characters in a montage that left me, I'm not kidding you, physically ill.
About 10 years ago my family was rear-ended in a hotel shuttle van at a stoplight by a drunk driver going about 80 miles per hour. Miraculously, we suffered no major injuries, and I came away only with a concussion. I was given some medication for the physical pain, but under the influence of the drug, I would have flashbacks of the crash and what-might-have-beens every single time I closed my eyes. I found it easier to endure the physical pain than the mental and went off the meds.
The Six Feet Under finale hit me like getting the crash and the medication at once. As much of a reminder as it was to treasure life, the show was that painful. My mortality and my family's mortality hammered against my forehead, and an hour after the show, when I closed my eyes for sleep, images of Ruth and Claire on their deathbeds haunted me. A television show did this to me.
In a sense, I love the power great television has. I embrace it. But baseball has given me greater euphoria than the greatest television show, and has never made me feel as low.
Thank freakin' goodness.
Long Time Passing
Sure enough, the Dodgers have a chance to become the worst team ever to start its season with a 12-2 record. The Dodger winning percentage is at .452; only the 1914 Pittsburgh Pirates, at .448, have ever finished a season worse after a 12-2 launch. If the Dodgers go 16-22 in their final 38, they will underpass Pittsburgh.
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Chad Billingsley followed Edwin Jackson in winning Southern League Pitcher of the Week recognition.
The 21st-Century Dodger All-Star Team
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Gary Sheffield, LF, 2000
Olmedo Saenz, 1B, 2005
Kevin Brown, 2003
Eric Gagne, 2003
Guillermo Mota, 2003
August 21 Open Chat
August 20 Open Chat
Accept It All
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A .500 record in the past 30 games allows the Dodger season to be broken down thusly:
12-2 April 5-20
Jayson Werth has given the team an extra bat - OPSing .839 since the All-Star Break and 1.035 in his six August games. The others OPSing over .800 since the break are Ricky Ledee (.936), Jeff Kent (.919), Antonio Perez (.918), Olmedo Saenz (.917), Hee Seop Choi (.874).
I should point out that Dodger opponents are at .804 in that stretch, while the local boys are at .699.
Oscar Robles has been getting a lot of attention, but he really hasn't been doing much lately - .653 OPS since the break, .659 in August. What he does get are a lot of at-bats, giving him more opportunities than most to come up with a timely hit. Of course, his fielding has been solid.
My sense is that the Dodgers temporarily escaped the "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong" phase. They are getting outhit and outpitched, but they have stolen some victories and taken better advantage of the opportunities they have had. Their average victory in their 15-15 stretch has been by 2.7 runs; their average loss by 3.9.
The Dodgers have gotten a little lucky lately. But they were due. Now, can they actually get better? The offense and pitching both remain inconsistent. Could the pitching possibly give the team a final stretch of sub-4.00 performance?
Not sure that it can. But Jake Peavy lost for the Padres on Thursday. Things remain tough all over. Denial does not exist. Accept that the Dodgers are flawed and not likely to improve much (despite whispers of J.D. Drew); accept that the NL West is flawed and not likely to improve much (despite whispers of Barry Bonds), and that anything can happen, and that something weird probably will. Accept it all.
I Missed You, Did You Miss Me
Blame it on the ISP, baby.
Game chat away, but here's this morning's post:
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A lot of times you'll hear the case made that OBP undervalues a player like Jose Reyes or Carl Crawford because it doesn't account for their baserunning ability. This is a perfectly reasonable argument. Getting on base, as [reader Mike Mitchell] intimates, is not the goal. Rather, getting on base is a means to an end, that end being scoring runs. But running the bases well is also a means to that end. If Bill Mueller gets on base five percent more often than Scott Podsednik, but Podsednik scores 10 percent more often than Mueller those times that he does reach base, which player is the more valuable run-generator?
Silver described a method to calculate speed-adjusted on-base percentage, or using the term inspired by Mitchell, SOB. Rickey Henderson's 1985 season added .057 to his on-base percentage using this method, for example. The 2005 leader is Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay, whose OBP is .317 but SOB is .343, a .026 difference.
Silver also noted which baserunners have done the most damage to their on-base percentages, and Cesar Izturis and Jason Phillips of the Dodgers make the 2005 Top 10. Izturis has knocked his .306 on-base percentage down to .286, and Phillips falls from .291 to .273.
The formula for SOB, which Silver elaborates upon in the article, is this:
H + BB + HBP + (SB * .366)--CS + (EqBR * 2.27)
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People talk about baseball bloggers increasing their exposure or access at the ballpark, but David Pinto of Baseball Musings almost took it one step further - by getting a call from the bullpen.
My family and I just got back from game 1 of the doubleheader at Norwich. The Navigators were hosting the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the AA affiliate of the Blue Jays. Norwich starter Anthony Moreno was hit hard. He gave up three runs in the third and four more in the fourth before Norwich manager Bob Stanley pulled him with two out and two on. Oscar Montero entered the game and gave up a three-run homer to make the score 10-5 in favor of the Cats. Montero got out of the inning. We were sitting behind home plate, and Stanley walked over to where we were sitting to retrieve the pitching chart from one of his players. After getting the chart, he looks right at me and says, "Can you pitch?"
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It's a no-win situation for baseball fans. As one who follows the Yankees, I find a real conflict in rooting for (Jason) Giambi. Earlier this month, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote that Giambi's streak may be fueled by human growth hormone, a naturally occurring substance undetectable in a urine test, and as such outside the scope of MLB's current policy. In his leaked BALCO testimony, Giambi admitted he had used HGH in the past. But even putting that aside, taking pleasure in the slugger's resurgence is tough when I can't dismiss the possibility it's chemically fueled. As his role in the Yankees offense becomes more prominent, rooting for the entire team becomes that much less fun. Giambi is not the only one in purgatory for his transgressions; so are all of us who love the game. ...
Taken together, the only clear picture is that we still can't gauge the total effect of steroids on the game. We can't tell the good guys from the bad guys, and the ambiguity is unsettling. The portrait (Howard) Bryant paints in "Juicing the Game" is that we're all complicit in letting steroids flourish. That goes for the baseball commissioner (merely a tool of the owners), owners (loath to commit financial suicide by acting on suspicions that their players were using the drugs, and too belligerent in bargaining with the union to reach an agreement on testing), union (hiding its juiced-up stars behind rhetoric, while failing to heed the wishes of the marginal players, who are more receptive to testing), writers (afraid of losing access to the locker rooms and unwilling to police the game), and fans (enamored of the long ball and turning out in record numbers despite the game's transgressions). Baseball is mired in purgatory and we're all in it together.
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Peek into the Dodger Stadium nightscene with this visit to the Martini Bar - that's right, the Martini Bar - courtesy of Kevin Bronson of the Times.
"It's friendly, it's clean and people treat it as their home base," says Drew McCourt, the team's director of marketing. "And the bar is a great place to spend the postgame and let the traffic blow over."
I remember years ago, after a day game, I was going to hang out at Dodger Stadium with the newspaper while the traffic blew over - and was told to leave by security 30 minutes after the game ended. Do they still have that time limit out in the seats?
When the sound system is not tuned to the action or the postgame "Dodger Talk" (which originates from the lounge), regular bartender Betty Ward often plugs in her iPod to provide music.
There must be nothing quite like listening to bitter Dodger fans over a martini.
Sunny Days in Jacksonville
If you think the Dodgers have gotten hot with three magic victories in their past four games, check out their AA team in Jacksonville. The Suns won their 11th game in a row Tuesday, defeating the Mississippi Braves, 6-4.
Despite losing pitchers Derek Thompson to arm surgery and Jonathan Broxton to the majors, Jacksonvile has had plenty step up to give fans near and far (I'm looking at you, Nate Purcell) plenty to drool over. Just a few highlights:
The offense has thrived as well, despite the promotion of Delwyn Young to Las Vegas:
Again, there's much more going on with the team than these snippets offer. There's even a heck of a pennant race for those who are interested - Birmingham (the Chicago White Sox AA team) has held off the Suns with a nine-game winning streak of its own to maintain a 2 1/2 game lead in the second-half standings. (Jacksonville won the first half.) The Suns play the Barons eight times in their final 12 games from August 26-September 5.
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Glomming on to what others have written ...
From Steve Henson in the Times:
Sources on both sides say Hochevar is seeking $4 million, a deal similar to what Boston gave St. John's pitcher Craig Hansen, the 26th pick. The Dodgers have offered a little more than $2 million, which would make him the highest-paid draft pick in team history.
"There is a certain number we will go to today, tomorrow or several weeks from now," said Dodger scouting director Logan White, who is handling the negotiations. "We really like Luke and his family and want him to be a Dodger. I think we are being tremendously fair."
Another sticking point is that the Dodgers are reluctant to offer Hochevar a major league contract, which would require them to put him on the 40-man roster immediately. The Dodgers have several highly regarded minor leaguers to protect on the roster this fall to keep them from being taken in the Rule 5 draft.
"Perez, whose lawyers withdrew from the case after he stopped communicating with them, now has 30 days to appeal," wrote Vincent Bonsignore in the Daily News. "If he doesn't, (plaintiff Amy) McQuillin and her lawyer will then try to collect on the $15 million, although their only recourse is to go after Perez's United States assets."
"We're in the process of determining exactly what his U.S. assets are," said Steven Savolla, McQuillin's lawyer in the article.
A related Dodger Thoughts piece from December 20 can be found here.
"As a kid, I was a member of the Dodger-Pepsi Fan Club," he admits, not sheepishly, over a lunch plate of crepes and over-easy eggs at a new, sort of Frenchified, shabby chic Silver Lake bistro. "You'd turn in your Pepsi bottles and you'd get a shirt and a ticket to a game. I'd go with my dad. It was part of growing up in Los Angeles, and I liked it," he says. "But then I became a 15-year-old punk rocker."
Note that as long as it is viewed from afar, change can be good. Of the 25 players on Atlanta's current active roster, 14 were not with the team in 2004. If you factor in that two catchers from 2004 are in the 2005 disabled list, that still leaves 12 new players on the division-leading team. Similar numbers in Los Angeles have provoked charges of civic treason.
I'm not trying to oversimply things here. It all depends on who you bring in, and in the end, results matter. But there are those who have assaulted the Dodger front office for making changes without even considering the positives behind those changes - whatever the standings may tell you today.
"They make very few mistakes in terms of evaluating players," Cincinnati assistant GM Dean Taylor told Hammond. "There have been very few players whose production has improved once they left the Braves."
The same could actually be said about the decisions made by DePodesta's team.
*denotes first time I have ever used this word
Over on the other coast, Sunday's game brought a figuratively painful end to a literally painful week for the Mets. 'PED-WOE' angsted the back page of the New York Post. Lee Jenkins of the New York Times elaborates:
For seven and a third innings, Pedro Martínez soothed the Mets and successfully distracted them. Players thought less about their injured teammates Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran than the status of Martínez's blossoming no-hit bid. Perhaps they began to visualize their wretched Southern California swing concluding with a pile at the mound.
But with one out in the eighth inning, on the brink of a no-hitter and a Hollywood ending, Martínez and the Mets received one more kick in the shins. ... The similarities between this defeat and the excruciating series finale in San Diego were striking. In San Diego, Cameron and Beltran collided in right-center field, allowing a triple that set up the winning run. In this game, Gerald Williams crashed into the center-field wall, allowing a triple that set up the winning rally. In both cases, the Mets lost, 2-1.
"It's been emotional," Martínez said.
He had to feel like a voodoo doll stuffed with pins.
Jenkins added that Antonio Perez double-clutched on the ninth-inning throw home. I didn't see it - did anyone else?
A Stealth 'Heart and Soul' Campaign for Robles
While the desire to drop Cesar Izturis from the leadoff spot in the Dodger lineup dates back to the Hahn administration, I don't understand the people who think Oscar Robles is clearly superior. The difference between Izturis and Robles is marginal, and I have to think that those who favor Robles so passionately are embracing a kind of stealth "heart and soul" argument that often goes unrecognized - namely, the grass is always greener.
This is not an issue I am particularly passionate about - to begin with, it's more important to me that Antonio Perez and Hee Seop Choi see an increase in playing time. However, to fit Perez into the lineup, either Robles or Izturis has to sit, so that's how the debate becomes relevant. And I just worry that people are conflating two issues: Just because Izturis isn't qualified to be the Dodgers' leadoff hitter doesn't mean he should be benched.
Right now, Robles is ahead of Izturis in EQA, .248 to .227, thanks mainly to his plate discipline - in a battle of lightweights, Izturis has a bit more power. But Robles remains a player with a bit less range on defense. Robles also hasn't been around long enough for most of the league to adjust to him, the way opposing teams have for Izturis this season.
Recently, Robles has been the better player, and if you're talking about trading Izturis for value, or allowing Izturis to heal what some believe to be a beat-up body, Robles could certainly serve as caretaker for the position while earning a fraction of Izturis' salary. But the evidence that Robles will be the better player going forward is sketchy at best. Robles is 29; Izturis is still only 25.
With both guys active, it's reasonable that the player who is both younger and more experienced, Izturis, should continue to start most games. The world may have overrated Little Cesar during his 2005 All-Star campaign, but let's not overcorrect.
When You Least Expect It
Gerald Williams had a choice as he approached the center-field wall at full speed in the eighth inning today - go for the catch of Antonio Perez's fly ball with Pedro Martinez's no-hitter on the line, or protect his 39-year-old body that was only in the game because Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron didn't protect their bodies three days ago.
Williams ducked and hit the wall with his shoulder instead of his face, and the baseball hit the wall a couple of feet away.
And that's baseball.
Vin Scully pointed out today that Martinez wasn't overpowering the Dodgers today - not really even cracking 90 on the gun, but fooling them to death. He was dominating with guile.
Brad Penny was hitting high speeds today, his injuries of a year to six months ago the most distant of memories, and he kept it close. He even seemed to do the drama and ESPN Classic a favor by making such short work of the Mets in the late innings. With the lead and no dominant closer behind him, Penny came out for the ninth to close it off himself, like Dodger pitchers did in a different era.
Just as the comeback appeared complete, suddenly the Mets had Marlon Anderson on third and one out. But Victor Diaz, who had been mocking the Dodgers for their trade of him a good part of the weekend, hit a check swing grounder. Perez - the benchwarmer with the team-leading batting average who broke the no-hitter, charged and made the needed throw home to nail Anderson and give the Dodgers breathing room. Antonio Perez, ballplayer.
There are those who accept the Dodgers' fate as losers this year, with whatever hopes they have for the future, and those who say they accept the Dodgers' fate but don't really mean it, who allow themselves to be buffeted by the ups and downs that this weekend series against the Mets encapsulated like perhaps no other this season. The Dodgers remain a losing team, but one that did what Jim Tracy asked - gained a game in the standings in a week.
For me, J.D. Drew's injury was the last blow, and it's still the last blow. It's just easier that way. I'd rather be surprised than be buffeted. I'm not by definition a pessimist -many of you might remember my morning sedatives last year to calm your nerves when it appeared the Dodgers might blow their divisional lead. Consider this another prescription.
That doesn't mean I can't celebrate what a great game today's was - both for the no-hitter it might have been and what it ended up as. That doesn't mean I think it's impossible for the Dodgers to win the lagging National League West.
I don't see the consistency that I need to see at this date to believe in the Dodgers - not in their pitching, not in their offense, not in their defense and not in their managing. That's why the Dodgers have so much trouble building more than a two-game winning streak.
But I can still root, and revel in a victory.
And that's baseball.
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"We have a lot more similarities than differences," DePodesta said. "People point out the differences, but they are few and far between.
"Anyway, it's healthy to disagree. It creates discussion and debate. It's important with a scouting director and an assistant general manager too. It's important not to have clones."
- Paul DePodesta on Jim Tracy, via Steve Henson in Monday's editions of the Times.
August 14 Open Chat
August 13 Open Chat
Met Fans Arrive Late but Stay for Merengue
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Medical update from the Mets' press notes:
Mike Cameron sustained multiple facial fractures that will require surgery. Mike also suffered a slight concussion. Carlos Beltran spent the night in the hospital and has been diagnosed with a minimally displaced facial fracture that most likely will not require surgery. He [was] undergoing further imaging this morning. Carlos also sustained a concussion.
Victor Diaz, the minor leaguer the Dodgers sent to New York in the Jeromy Burnitz trade, has been called up by the Mets. Diaz has a career OPS of .819 in 202 plate appearances in the majors.
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Sometime tonight, someone from New York is going to make a snide comment about Dodger fans arriving late and leaving early.
Last month, I went to the July 22 Dodgers-Mets game in Shea Stadium - coincidentally featuring tonight's starters, Victor Zambrano and Jeff Weaver. There was a sellout crowd and eventually that crowd did appear. But at the game's start, there were scads of empty seats, for the same reasons so many Dodger fans miss the call of "Play ball": traffic, on the highways, in the parking lots and in the line to get past security and enter the ballpark.
Once the Met fans did arrive, though, they stayed until the end - again for the same reasons that Dodger fans do, at least when Eric Gagne isn't pitching. It was a good, close game (ending with a 6-5 Dodger victory) and there was a postgame promotion: Merengue Night. It was quite something to leave the game at the end and see crowds gathering at the exits, asking you for your ticket stub so they could take your spot after the game and merengue the night away.
July 26 was my second game at Shea. My memories of the stadium atmosphere at my first visit, a day game in 1989, were not pleasant at all. I know Shea is due to be replaced and many people will be happy about that. But last month at the night game, the ballpark had more of a minor league feel despite its size, and despite humidity that would have caused no one to object to changing Merengue Night to Nudist Night, I found myself quite enjoying it, dump or not.
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Ross Porter was scheduled to be honored this morning by the Los Angeles City Council with a resolution in recognition of 38 years of uninterrupted announcing in the city, 28 of those with the Dodgers.
Antonio Perez Underrated at Third Base?
Fielding remains the final frontier of statistical analysis. In particular, midseason evaluations are particularly difficult, because some fielding statistics are not published until season's end.
But naked eye observations can also be misleading, so it can be useful to at least consider some of the more advanced fielding statistics.
What follows are charts of every Dodger infielder with 25 innings or more at a given position along with the major league leader at that position (minimum 300 innings). I've provided two fielding statistics, as well as one offensive statistic. Detailed explanations can be found in the italics, but for easy comparison's sake, just know that higher is better all around.
Zone rating is the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive "zone," as measured by STATS, Inc.
Rate2 is a way to look at the fielder's rate of production, equal to 100 plus the number of runs above or below average this fielder is per 100 games. A player with a rate of 110 is 10 runs above average per 100 games, a player with an 87 is 13 runs below average per 100 games, etc. Rate2 incorporates adjustments for league difficulty and normalizes defensive statistics over time.
EQA, or equivalent average, is 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 always equal to .260. EqA is derived from Raw EqA, which is (H + TB + 1.5*(BB + HBP + SB) + SH + SF) divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH + SF + CS + SB). REqA is then normalized to account for league difficulty and scale to create EqA.
Not surprisingly, middle infielder Kent is probably the best-fielding Dodger first baseman and yet no comparison to the defense of hitting machine Helton. But note that Choi surpasses Saenz and Phillips in zone rating and exceeds even Kent in Rate2. Based on these offensive and defensive numbers, you can make arguments for Kent, Choi and Saenz at first base but once again, Phillips comes up lacking at this position.
Kent is the Dodgers' clear-cut winner over Perez at second base.
Perez also comes up lacking here during his brief time at shortstop, but these numbers give Robles supporters something to feast upon. I can't say I'm convinced that Robles is better than Izturis, but certainly this points to how much Izturis has tailed from the definition of an All-Star shortstop.
In limited duty, Nakamura was dim at the plate but bright in the field. But the big news is that despite the derision he has received, Perez actually matches Robles in one defensive category and surpasses him in another.
True, Perez is no Rolen, but based on these stats, one should wonder whether a) observation of Perez's defense has been misleading and b) whether the defensive stats could possibly be so wrong as to justify the Dodgers not using Perez's offense at third base.
Joseph Heller would have done a nice job with this Yhency Brazoban stuff.
First, people start to conclude based on recent perfomances that Brazoban doesn't pitch well in non-save situations, forgetting that Brazoban made his major league career by pitching exceptionally in support of Eric Gagne in non-save situations.
Then, because Brazoban is not pitching well in non-save situations, the Dodgers decide to demote him from closer, leaving him to pitch only in ... non-save situations.
What I like about this is how this cuts through conventional wisdom about closing like a steak knife cuts through butter. Through Brazoban's recent struggles comes the realization that entering a tie game is just as pressure-packed, if not more so, then entering the bottom of the ninth inning with a lead.
Closers have annexed tie games in the ninth inning for a home team as part of their territory, only because of the rules technicality that at that point, no save situation can materialize for the remainder of the game. That's been the only reason for many managers to use their closers in tie games before extra innings. Not because they were pressure-packed. Conventional wisdom has been in denial.
Will anyone make the leap to see that maybe, just maybe, a tie game in the eighth or even seventh inning has just as much pressure and import, if not more, then pitching with a lead in the ninth?
The final twist is that the sample size of Brazoban's performances is too small to determine whether the situation he enters the game in matters at all. The bottom line is, Brazoban is just up and down right now, due to limitations of his pitch selection or mechanical issues - and so, he will pitch in middle relief (not the ninth inning or probably even the eighth) to try to solve those problems. But there's no way anyone can know that the inning or the score is affecting him at all.
Bullpen True or False?
You need good middle relief to make the playoffs, but you can't plan for good middle relief.
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The Dodgers begin the day seven games behind the Padres and seven games below .500 (4-11) in games they are tied after seven innings. Oops.
The team's overall winning percentage has fallen to .442. Outside of the 1992 team (.389) which most fans still remember, the last Dodger team with a winning percentage this low was the 1944 squad, which finished at .409 (63-91).
The good news is that both the Dodgers' losing and the war going on ended the following year.
Brooklyn's problems in '44 centered on pitching. Twenty-two-year-old Hal Gregg threw nearly 200 innings with a 5.46 ERA (65 ERA+). You think Edwin Jackson had a rough stretch? Cal McLish, who ultimately retired when he was 38, debuted at 18 and allowed 81 runs in 84 innings.
In all, the Dodgers used six pitchers who were 20 or younger, including 20-year-old Frank Wurm, whose entire major-league career consisted of one game with seven batters, five walks, one hit and one out, for a career ERA of 108.00. It is probably in poor taste for me to say that Wurm turned for the last time in 1993, at the age of 69.
On the other hand, 40-year-old Curt Davis had a 3.34 ERA in 194 innings.
The Dodger lineup hit only 56 home runs all season despite some names you would know: Mickey Owen, Eddie Stanky, Frency Bordagaray, Dixie Walker and even both Hall of Fame Waner brothers: Paul, who in 83 games at age 41 posted a .405 on-base percentage and the last of his 3,151 National League hits, and Lloyd, who was at .412 in 15 games at age 38.
The following season, the Dodgers lowered their team ERA from 4.68 to 3.70 and improved from 63 victories to 87. The 1946 Dodgers wno 96 games and the 1947 Dodgers won the NL pennant.
Thursday Here, Monday Over There
This morning, you can read me over at Baseball Analysts, where I grabbed the Designated Hitter slot in the lineup with this piece about the complicated presence of Rick Monday in my life as a baseball fan.
It includes the defining moment of my baseball-watching career, and begins thusly ...
Like bellbottoms and white loafers, Rick Monday has drifted in and out of style. On more than one occasion, he has dressed the diamond with aplomb - the most beloved or desired baseball player in the country. At other times, you just want to box him up and cart him off to Goodwill.Thanks to Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith for letting me take a swing.
(And sorry for this morning's site travails. Details, if you want them, are at Fairpole.
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Good day baseball - Angels at Oakland in the battle for first in the American League West. You can follow the game here.
Also, New York Mets vs. San Diego.
They've Been Handed Their Behinds All Too Often
Dodger record when leading after ...
38-9 six innings
39-3 seven innings
41-2 eight innings
Though the Dodgers in recent years have been indomitable with a lead in the late innings, and though the bullpen looks considerably weaker this season, and though last night's finish was disastrous, the Dodgers have still been strong in closing out games.
However, they have only held a lead after six innings in 42 percent of their games this season.
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Did anyone hear Vin Scully say, "I feel like Jeff Kent," as the Dodger broadcast Tuesday came back from commercial late in the game. Kent had struck out four times by this point.
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Mike Edwards was optioned to AAA Las Vegas to make room for the addition of Jose Cruz, Jr., according to the Dodger press notes.
Watch out, also, for this:
FSN West 2, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Dodgers, becomes the nation's first regional sports network to include actual field level perspective in local MLB coverage when 'FSN Diamond Cam' debuts on Tuesday, Aug. 9 (7:00 PM PT). 'FSN Diamond Cam' is the miniaturized camera no larger than a pencil eraser implanted on the playing field. It was first introduced during FOX Sports' national broadcast coverage of the 2004 MLB All-Star Game and postseason.
On Aug, 9, while the Dodgers host the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium, FSN West 2's production team, in addition to its usual complement of seven cameras, plans to add three 'Diamond Cam' angles to its coverage: from the front of the pitcher's mound; at first base; and from in front of home plate. 'FSN Diamond Cam' is expected to be used during FSN West 2 Dodgers' telecasts for the rest of the season.
Maybe my memory is off, but my recollection is that the ground-level shot is one of the worst angles you can go to. We'll see if they can offer something to fix my mind.
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"The biggest bust of all, though, has been Drew, who has missed the past month with a broken left wrist," Jackson wrote. "Even before that, he was far too passive at the plate for a No. 3 hitter. He remains the runaway team leader with 51 walks and he is hitting just .218 with runners in scoring position."
To sum up briefly, leading your team in OPS and remaining your team's second-most valuable player overall even accounting for your time on the disabled list - that's not the resume of a bust. A .412 on-base percentage and .520 slugging percentage when your No. 1 and 2 hitters aren't hitting and your No. 4 hitter is hitting ... that's a good thing.
And I'm about ready to start a movement to ban use of the "runners in scoring position" statistic within a season. Drew's .218 average comes from going 12 for 55. Putting aside the fact that with his 14 walks, Drew's OBP is a healthy .370 in those situations, the small sample size means that only five additional hits would have raised Drew's average to .309.
So because Drew went 12 for 55 instead of 17 for 55 with runners in scoring position, he's DePodesta's biggest bust? He's a bust of any kind? I gotta disagree. I might have gone with Derek Lowe, whose pitching performance has been spotty - though even for all the criticisms I've offered of Lowe recently, I'd be hesitant to call Lowe a true bust.
By the way, if you read the Valentine article, for the record, Nolan Ryan pitched a no-hitter two days before Valentine's injury, not the day before. Still, talk about your highs and lows.
* * *
Vin Scully feels like a member of the family to many of us, but he keeps his personal side hidden. Last month on HBO's REALSports with Bryant Gumbel (with continued airings scheduled through Wednesday), Scully opened up. It was just a little, but it had me paying attention.
Gumbel raised the two tragedies of Scully's personal life - the passing of his first wife, and the helicopter crash that killed his son at the age of 33. It's a subject that plays into my biggest fears, the things I think about whether I'm watching Six Feet Under or March of the Penguins. Or even just driving down the street.
"You never got over it," Gumbel asked.
"Not really," Scully said. "My faith, I think, has helped me - overwhelmingly so, in fact, and especially when Michael died. Yeah. And for me, throwing myself back into work was a great way to continue."
"But, you never get past it," Gumbel said.
"No, never. As each year goes by, I guess maybe you could say you're more accustomed to the burden, you're more accustomed to the pain, and that's the way you do it. You tolerate."
It might not ease one's fears much, especially for those who don't share Scully's faith. I admire how he has handled himself, the strength it has taken. Gumbel later explores this, asking a more general question about Scully's bearing.
"I read a quote from you," Gumbel said, "and please tell me if it's correct. 'I'm not always happy but I try to act like I am. I refuse to allow my emotions to show.' "
"True," Scully replied. "And I would say that's a failing of me, where people could look upon me as being either cool, detached, conceited. It's not any of that. It's just that I kind of stay within myself a great deal."
I don't know if it's good or bad - my wife respected Scully for calling his repression of his feelings a "failing" - but I wouldn't be able to do it. I'm quite certain I'd drown except for any responsibilities and living loves that would force me to stay afloat, against all odds and emotions.
Excerpts here to the contrary, the Scully feature is for the most part quite upbeat and enjoyable, with lots of memories in words and photographs. The color photo of red-haired Scully as a young boy is priceless, and the feature ends on a particularly fun note, with HBO's cameras catching Scully singing along with "I Love L.A." at the end of a game. Who knew?
I'm sorry, I know it should just go without saying, but I cherish all these years with Vinny. Yes, I cherish my own family more - I'm not insane about my appreciation of Scully. But it really has been a privilege.
Crossing My Tease, Dotting My Eyes
For those who are coming to the site for the first time by way of Steve Henson and the Times, this is the just joshin' post Henson refers to (where it should be noted that I also celebrate Jim Tracy's batting prowess with the bases empty), but here is the meat of the most recent argument for playing Hee Seop Choi ahead of Jason Phillips at first base.
Well, whether or not you believe in clutch hitting, certainly up to now Phillips has delivered with runners on second and/or third.Meanwhile, here is a more comprehensive entry that touches upon who starts for the Dodgers in general.
But of those six players (with the highest OPS on the current 25-man roster), Tracy has taken to playing only three of them: Kent, Bradley, and Ledee when able. Choi, Perez and Saenz often all sit. The Dodgers have to do better.
Am I ignoring defense? Not that much. Only at third base is there any kind of defensive dropoff between the lineup listed here and the lineup Jim Tracy is making.
This earlier post highlights my understanding of the choice to play Olmedo Saenz ahead of Choi. Not that I agree with it on a full-time basis, but I understand the case.
But as much as I may disagree with Tracy about how much Choi should play, it's not like it's insane or evil to give Saenz at-bats. And it doesn't point to a failing on DePodesta's part that he doesn't order Tracy to do differently.
In any case, good on Henson for putting the case for Choi out there. Certainly, some will continue to dismiss it, but it's nice to see the arguments entertained.
And if you're new to the site - welcome, and don't be shy about saying hello.
The Break Didn't Help
Opponents are OPSing .809 against the Dodgers in 22 games since the All-Star Break and have stolen 25 bases in 29 attempts. The team is 9-13.
Rookie pitcher Zach Duke has allowed four earned runs in 39 1/3 innings for the Pirates. Should Fernando be impressed?
Two-Thirds of a Team
Seconds are good at any meal, but today, I'm offering you thirds. And it might not digest well.
The Dodgers followed a 27-27 opening third to the season with a 21-33 pratfall in the middle third, leaving them 48-60 on the year. Putting aside the fact that they're still in the National League West race, the numbers just don't look good.
PA = plate appearances, courtesy of Baseball Prospectus
To see the 54-Game Review, click the link.
Jeff Kent is the 15th most valuable player in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus. Just a great signing.
J.D. Drew was the Dodgers best hitter this season. The only right fielders in baseball with better EQAs are Brian Giles, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu. The loss of Drew was enormous.
Had the Dodgers not signed Kent to play second base, Antonio Perez would have been a full-timer there. Given that he has 42 percent of Kent's VORP in 48 percent of his plate appearances (and 38 percent of his fielding win shares), there wouldn't have been much of a dropoff which just goes to show you how valuable Perez might be if he played every day.
The VORP of Milton Bradley was 16.2 after 54 games, so you see what a gap there has been for him in the middle third of the season. Most of that period was spent waiting for him to return; one could also say that we're still waiting.
Olmedo Saenz has had more plate appearances in the second third of the season, but at almost no value. Hee Seop Choi, on the other hand, showed some slight improvement. Because Saenz has spent some time at third base, his value compared to a replacement player is higher. Choi is just about an average first baseman. The Dodgers are simply overloaded on the right side of the infield with Kent, Perez, Saenz and Choi.
Ricky Ledee only picked up 50 plate appearances in the past 54 games, but continued showing himself to be a shrewd pickup when he does play a better than average reserve.
With an EQA of .237, the third-lowest of any Dodger with more than 100 plate appearances, Jason Phillips has simply not been a good hitter. For however long he has lost his starting catching job to Dioner Navarro (a change that might not be permanent in 2005 if Navarro slumps in the field), Phillps has no value. Anything he can do, most everyone else can do better.
The biggest tumble in 2005 Part II is presented to you by Cesar Izturis. Izturis was arguably the team's MVP for the first third of the season, with a VORP of 17.5. As you can see, he is nowhere near that figure now and is even two Win Shares worse than a bench player. His EQA has fallen from .278 to .229 and his OPS from .787 to .647. And note that while Perez has stolen nine bases in 11 attempts, Izturis has swiped seven in 15 attempts. Jayson Werth, whose abilities and health have both been maligned, has contributed about as much to the team this season as Izturis.
Ah, Oscar Robles. On the brink of committing Nakamuracide, Robles started putting balls in play and raised his average into the middle .300s. But now, in a 5 for 48 slump, his season is shaping up to be like the one Choi is alleged of having one giant nothing interrupted by a few weeks of brilliance. Right now, he is a better offensive player than Izturis, however, mainly because he walks twice as often.
Jason Repko has battled back to give the semblance of consistency. Speedy to be sure, he remains a below average hitter, however.
The cryogenic statistics of Paul Bako are looking better as most of his teammates slump, but no doubt freezing Bako's numbers simply spared him similar pain.
Mike Edwards was pretty hot when the Dodgers hit the 54-game mark but even at his best was an average bench player. Now, he is less than that.
Jose Valentin did not return to the lineup with magic powers, unless you account for the fact that he is perhaps the only injured Dodger who completed his injury rehabilitation according to if not ahead of the original schedule.
Chin-Feng Chen finally got a major league hit thank goodness. That really might be one of the top positives of this chapter of Dodger baseball.
Dioner Navarro has been as advertised a weak bat that walks more than it strikes out. A time might come where it becomes clear that Phillips, even with his deficiencies, should still be the starter there. Or, teams might start running on Navarro, rendering him irrelevant for 2005. Or, Navarro might poke that batting average back above .200, and lock down the starting job for the rest of the season. Mike Rose is paying attention.
Cody Ross had his shot and clanked.
Norihiro Nakamura - seems so long ago, doesn't it? The very thought of him points out the strengths and flaws of the "How much worse could he be?" chants that desperate fans muster up. The fact is, Nakamura did so poorly that he truly hasn't earned another shot on a team that is loaded with infielders, however much they may be misused. But he may get that second shot in September callups, and good luck to him if he does.
No hard feelings, Jason Grabowski - but 115 at bats is a lot to soak up a .176 EQA. Grabowski completely neutralized the VORP of Ricky Ledee.
Saenz would make spot starts as well.
Am I ignoring defense? Not that much. Only at third base is there any kind of defensive dropoff between the lineup listed here and the lineup Jim Tracy is making.
The batting order falls off a cliff at the No. 6 spot, with three consecutive below average hitters. But this is the way of making the best of having only six hitters on the active roster, including the fragile Saenz and Ledee, with EQAs above .260.
But of those six players, Tracy has taken to playing only three of them: Kent, Bradley, and Ledee when able. Choi, Perez and Saenz often all sit. The Dodgers have to do better.
Brad Penny is the Dodgers' best starting pitcher by miles and miles. And in the second third of the season, his strikeouts per nine innings have increased from 4.59 to 6.53. In the majors, Penny's VORP ranks 33rd , (one of those a reliever) meaning if pitchers were distributed equally, he would be a top No. 2 starter.
Jeff Weaver has done the reverzturis. After posting a VORP of 0.0 through 54 games, he has become the No. 2 pitcher on the staff. He ranks 95th overall in VORP.
Derek Lowe, as has been chronicled before, has been steadily declining as the season goes on his recent eight innings of shutout baseball against Cincinnati being the exception. A pace of 30 home runs allowed is not what the Dodgers bargained for in season one of his four-year contract.
The middle third of the season for Odalis Perez has been even more mediocre than the first third. The bright side of Perez is that he doesn't get blown out only twice in 14 starts this year has he allowed more than four earned runs, and he has never gone fewer than five innings. But his ERA since April 18 is 5.08.
Things would have looked better for Duaner Sanchez before Thursday night he allowed more runs in one inning than he allowed in all of July but he's still the Dodgers' most valuable reliever and fifth most valuable pitcher this year. His strikeout rate continues to improve. His high placement on this list speaks loudly about the Dodger staff, however.
Elmer Dessens, clocking in at No. 6? Sigh. Dessens has the second-best ratio of walks plus hits/innings pitched and some success in keeping the ball in the park.
Derek Thompson is really a sad story. Unlike Eric Gagne, he did not escape a second Tommy John surgery. But he really came through while he was in Los Angeles posting a higher strikeout ration than any of the current starting five and allowing no home runs. Like Dessens, he allowed baserunners but wasn't victimized by them.
Eric Gagne - eighth-most valuable with 13 1/3 innings. He didn't allow a home run after the first inning he pitched, and was still striking out batters like nobody's business with his B material. What a shame.
Giovanni Carrara has ended up allowing baserunners as often as Scott Erickson yet still has more wins than Brad Penny. Someone alert Joe Morgan. Make no mistake, people got on base against Kelly Wunsch, too.
Franquelis Osoria got only three of his 36 outs by strikeout, which is discouraging, but he did help out.
Growing pains for Yhency Brazoban, who has the talent but not the consistency. No need, though, to send Yhency from whency came.
Steve Schmoll has shown improvement the second time around.
Wilson Alvarez - seven home runs in 22 innings? Worse than Scott Erickson? Tough way to go.
D.J. Houlton, frankly, has not been that good either. But to put things in perspective, since June, he has been just about as good a starting pitcher as Perez.
Buddy Carlyle? My pick to click from Spring Training? Never give up never surrender!
And as for Jonathan Broxton, we'll wait and see. Promising for the future - for now, he's wooly and wild.
The Dodger season fell apart in May when the starting pitchers severely underperformed. Since then, the offense ran into injury- and lineup-induced trouble, letting the pitchers off the hook. In turn, the moundsmen have done their part in reducing what was a ridiculous rate of allowing home runs.
But it has still been a lousy staff. Penny and Weaver have been steady in the middle third of 2005, but they are the only two Dodger pitchers in the top 150 of VORP. Odalis Perez might have made it without injuries, but just at the bottom. Only five pitchers on the entire staff have ERAs below 4.00 three of those are relievers, two of those injured.
Lowe, Houlton and Perez look plausible as starters, but they haven't been getting the job done. You can't allow three or four runs in six innings anymore in Gagne-free Dodgertown and expect the bullpen to back you up. No doubt, people will continue to look to the offense, but it is here where the Dodgers can overcome all their ailments. Houlton is young; Perez and Lowe have had past success. Only if those guys can start holding opponents to two runs per six innings do the Dodgers have a shot at winning their woebegone division. And it's not as if it isn't possible against NL West competition.
But it's time to be impatient. It's time to be cynical. It's not just about the offense and it's not just about the manager. Almost none of the pitchers have been holding up their end of the deal and no one ever talks about it.
Struggling with RISP - a Psychological Issue?
Jim Tracy's career statistics with runners in scoring position: .267 on-base percentage, .104 slugging percentage. He was 5 for 48 with 10 RBI, 11 walks and 20 strikeouts. So you can understand why he might be sensitive.
With the bases empty, Tracy had a .393 on-base percentage and .520 slugging percentage.
Hee Seop Choi hits all right - he hits too close to home.
(Just teasing, of course.)
Remaining 2005 Interdivision Opponents
* * *
The Dodgers have a slight scheduling advantage outside the division for the remainder of the season (beginning Friday).
Quick poser to tide you over in the morning: Is it worth trading your credit rating for a Dodger blanket?
* * *
In an early game, the Padres take a 4-1 lead over the Pirates in the second inning. Khalil Greene has a three-run homer.
We are not alone. The 1975-76 standings of the NBA's Midwest Division:
So Milwaukee made the playoffs. But get this - so did Detroit! The two teams met in the first round (something of a wild-card round) with the Pistons winning, two games to one.
Detroit then lost to Golden State, which then lost to Phoenix, which then lost to Boston in an epic championship series that included an unforgettable triple overtime game.
It was Milwaukee's first season after trading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers.
'Bang Against Me Any Time,' Said the Wall to the Head
Update: This will be the game chat thread.
* * *
Until Tuesday, Hee Seop Choi had not homered since June 14. This relative slump led to his benching - he hasn't started since July 24.
Choi: .333 on-base percentage, .353 slugging percentage
The starting first baseman has been slumping worse than the slumping first baseman.
Now, from Steve Henson in the Times, we find the latest rationale from Dodger manager Jim Tracy for benching Choi: Phillips is better with runners in scoring position. Here are the stats:
Choi: .321 OBP, .323 slugging
Well, whether or not you believe in clutch hitting, certainly up to now Phillips has delivered with runners on second and/or third.
But wait a minute. What if you expand beyond runners in scoring position, and just include any situation with runners on base?
Choi: .336 OBP, .394 slugging
It's just about a wash with runners on. And in the more frequent situation of no runners on base - when you need a baserunner to kick things off?
Choi: .325 OBP, .507 slugging
And of course, don't forget their stats against right-handed pitchers:
Choi: .365 OBP, .462 slugging
Non-news flash. Tracy seeks out statistics to support his desire not to start Choi, conveniently ignoring the counter-arguments.
One possibility that hasn't been discussed is that Phillips will improve as a hitter without the burdens of catching.
Phillips as 1B (2002-04): .359 OBP, .409 slugging
But neither matches up to the career average of Choi - the same Choi who "who spent years emitting a few scents of his own at the plate," according to Tony Jackson of the Daily News.
Choi career: .349 OBP, .442 slugging
Phillips is a major league hitter, which means he's going to have some good games, and I couldn't be happier about that.
Choi is more of a hitter, and he will have his good games if people just let him. Like he already has. Tuesday's home run by Choi was only the fourth of his 14 that did not tie the game or give the Dodgers the lead - and yet it still provided the ultimate margin of victory.
Bottom line - there are alternatives to Choi at first base, but Phillips is still not one of them.
* * *
It has been reported that Jeff Kent became the first second baseman to reach the 20-homer mark in nine consecutive seasons in the majors. However, because one of Kent's home runs this season came as a first baseman, people need to hold off on awarding that record.
* * *
Dodger outfielder Jayson Werth has dropped the lawsuit he filed against Ryan Root that accused the former high school teammate of writing letters smearing Werth's reputation, according to the Chicago Sun-Times - but only because Root has succeeded in disappearing himself. (Thanks to 6-4-2 for the pointer.) Werth's attorneys say they might re-file if the letters resumed.
* * *
From Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"You look at what the team went through this year," he said. "I'm 38 and I've been hurt with injuries. I understand what this team has been through. There are no hard feelings. No excuses. I didn't get the job done whether I was hurt or not. People are paying you, and they want you to produce."
What? No bitching? No complaining? No "I have no idea how I tested positive for that .212 average?"
Nope. A simple, clear-headed assessment of the facts, without blame delegation or alibi weaving. Simple, pure Grissom.
Instead, he took his leave of the clubhouse while joking with teammates in his street clothes.
"Why be sad?" Grissom said. "I'm not sad about anything. I'll be fine."
Grissom has 2,251 career hits, 227 homers and 429 stolen bases.
Hughes and Lowe - A Small Silver Lining
My main concern with the story of the reported affair between Fox Television's Carolyn Hughes and Dodger pitcher Derek Lowe, which sprung at the subscription-based RonFineman.com before spreading to SportsByBrooks and L.A. Observed and finally reaching the Times and Boston Herald today, is that it gets reported as a story of adultery, not as an indictment of female reporters in the locker room.
Well - my main concern is about Lowe's kids, but after that, see above.
So far, I've been pleased. There are questions about conflict of interest being examined, and rightfully so. But two decades ago, maybe even one, there would have been plenty of snide "I told you so" remarks about women only having one reason for hanging in the clubhouse. Amid all that's sad/wrong/tawdry with the story - material that will get plenty of coverage elsewhere - it's a sign of progress that female reporters are so accepted today that this hasn't been brought up at all.
Happy Birthday to The Boy
One year old, and still hasn't been dropped. Though he did get conked by a ceiling fan when I was lifting him over my shoulders last week - whap whap whap. I'm glad I wasn't arrested for parental stupidity (and much more glad he survived)!
But what a sweet kid. Happy birthday, pal!
We Go To Washington
* * *
Trivia questions, courtesy of the Dodgers' and Nationals' pregame notes:
1) When was the last game played by a Dodger team in D.C. (an exhibition)?
2) What Dodger legend from the 1960s was born in D.C.?
3) Who plays in an older ballpark - the Dodgers or the Nationals?
4) How did Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson almost become a Dodger?
Bail, Bonds - Slugger Out for the Season
Heeding the advice of the Los Angeles doctors who have been overseeing rehabilitation on his right knee for the past six weeks, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds told MLB.com on Monday that he does not foresee playing again this season.
Bonds had been hoping that he'd return to the field sometime in September, especially if the Giants remain in the National League West race. But he said a recent MRI showed he's still slightly building fluid in a knee that has been scoped three times since Jan. 31, causing intermittent swelling.
"I don't think you're going to see me out there this year," Bonds said during a telephone interview. "That's the reality of the situation. I'm improving. I'm happy with the progress. I'm working out hard on the exercise bike and the elliptical machine, but I'm just not there yet. The last thing I want is to get back on the field and be out again a week later.
Today's suspension for a positive drug test by 3,000-hit, 500-home run man Rafael Palmeiro was sure to raise a lot of questions. Will Carroll attempts to answer them in this informative article on Baseball Prospectus.
Nice Debut for Navarro
No stolen bases were attempted by St. Louis in the 29 innings Dioner Navarro caught over the weekend. Is fear a powerful weapon? Navarro also went 3 for 9 with four walks.
St. Louis is eighth in the National League with 51 steals. The Dodgers' next opponent, Washington, is the worst basestealing team in the league, with 28 steals in 58 attempts, and the following opponent, Pittsburgh, is near the bottom as well.
Navarro's first big test will come beginning August 9 against Philadelphia, which has stolen 72 bases in 94 attempts and four players with 10 or more.
NL West Rotation Check
The difference-makers? How about Brad Halsey and Mike Gosling, who entered the season with 57 1/3 combined career innings, then combined for 55 innings in July 2005 alone with an ERA of 2.13. Add in the July ERA of 2.01 from Washington Nationals import Claudio Vargas, and you can understand how Arizona ascended in the National League West.
More power to the Diamondbacks if they can keep this up through August and September, but those are pretty pristine numbers to maintain.
My gut told me that Chan Ho Park would improve in coming to a pitchers park in the National League and therefore help the Padres, but the stats don't support my gut. He has pitched more poorly on the road than at home this season, and his ratio of flyouts to groundouts, 1.58, is the highest of his career. While Petco Park will protect him from some flyball damage, it can't smother them all. Park has only allowed eight home runs this season in compiling his 5.66 ERA, so how much more can San Diego's environment help? The best thing Park has going for him is that his strikeout rate, 6.57 per nine innings, is his highest since 2002 - but it's still unexceptional, and his strikeout/walk ratio is actually down from 2004. Correction: With the help of Rob McMillin at 6-4-2, I realize I read the stats wrong - and that Park's ground-ball ratio is the highest it has been. Which makes the trade much more promising for San Diego - though the infield defense behind Park still won't be anything wonderful.
Can the Dodgers get better performances out of their starting rotation? As much as the offense and bullpen have been blamed for the losing in June and July, an increase of seven-inning, two-run performances from the starting pitchers could thrust the Dodgers upward in this downstream NL West race. They're capable of doing it - which is not at all to say that they will.
Just to keep things in perspective, however, the Dodgers now have the same record as Cincinnati.
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About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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