27 April 2010

Last Place

But only two and a half games out. This is a very good division, even if it doesn't show up in the overall division record of 49-46.

Check out these on base percentages achieved and allowed by each NL West team, along with differential.

SFG --- 0.335 -- 0.290 (+45)
AZD --- 0.346 -- 0.333 (+13)
SDP --- 0.317 -- 0.306 (+11)
LAD --- 0.360 -- 0.352 (+08)
COL --- 0.336 -- 0.332 (+04)

All positive! There is a similar story for slugging achieved and allowed.

SFG --- 0.415 -- 0.326 (+89)
COL --- 0.449 -- 0.364 (+85)
LAD --- 0.455 -- 0.425 (+30)
SDP --- 0.392 -- 0.375 (+17)
AZD --- 0.465 -- 0.471 (-06)

Only the Snakes are doing worse than their opponents. I suppose the Giants come out as the best team in the early going, if you look at OBP and SLG differentials, but it's early. Things will change. I don't think all these positive number will remain all year. The Dodgers have time to turn it around, though I often doubt that they will.

Doubt is not certainty, though. I wouldn't say I have given up, or anything like that. I've shifted into a different mode of thinking, though. I've shifted the Dodgers from favorite to win the division to long-shot. Or perhaps medium-shot. The pitching is so uneven, and where will help come from? Unless there is a shocking mid-season acquisition, help can only come from internal improvement. I'm looking at you, Chad Billingsley. And he's looking back, or his Sunday box score is, anyway, asking if I saw that game. I did not, unfortunately, but I heard some of it, and I know he had a strong and efficient game. I almost think I would rather have had that 0-1 loss in which Billingsley set the foundation for a May resurgence than a 9-8 win in which he stunk again. Even better would have been a 9-1 win, I suppose, but the Dodgers don't appear to be that kind of team this year.

I take comfort in getting a lot of these east coast games out of the way. It would be nice if the Dodgers could do better than 1-2 in one of these series, but at least they don't get swept. They're still in the race. They are 4-2 when Vinny calls the games. Just get back to the west coast and play at a decent hour and get Vinny behind the mic and all will be well agian, I feel. In the meantime, maybe they can win the series against the Mets.

Maybe. And maybe Juan Pierre will collect an extra base hit before the year is over. So far, for the White Sox, with 72 at bats, Juan Pierre is batting 0.222, and slugging 0.222. If there was a way to slug lower than one's batting average I think Juan Pierre would find a way to do it. Pierre only has 1 RBI on the season, too. But he does have 9 stolen bases, so he is playing his game. Pierre knows how to play his game. I think Pierre is going to have the most Juan Pierre-like season he's ever had this year. Remember that day last year when he collected four extra base hits in the same game? Remember that home run he hit a couple years ago? I find, as time passes, that I only remember the good things about Juan Pierre. I wonder why?

19 April 2010

Deep Dodger Analysis

Yesterday I saw an NBA analyst declare that the Lakers were headed to the NBA Finals. His evidence? One home playoff game against the Oklahoma Thunder. Isn't this conclusion a bit premature? After one game, how much can really be said about the Lakers? After a dozen games, how much can be said about the Dodgers?

And yet, what is the alternative? Should we all just sit around staring at each other, saying "I don't know" and shaking our heads? The public wants conclusions and strong opinions. We want it. I want it. I guess I have to admit it. It is as if, at the conclusion of each game, I need to construct the feeling of a just concluded season. I am not content to wait to see what happens months from now. My despair or euphoria must be validated. NOW. Events cannot validate, so strong predictions must suffice. If the Dodgers lose, especially in a gruesome, tragic way, then the season is over, OVER, and we are free to conduct an autopsy of the team. If the Dodgers win, and if the winning has seemed like a habit, then we are free to imagine champagne showers.

You, who are reading this, can no doubt place yourself above such base psychological needs. Whether or not you participate in such strong reactions to wins and losses, you can surely see how irrational they are. I can. And yet, in unguarded moments, I will still have them. At times it is a juvenile catharsis. Back in the 90's my favorite method was to cast away any Dodger who failed, even over the space of just one at bat, so long as I deemed that at bat important enough. I don't know how many times I told Eric Karros that he was "off the team". Even Piazza was probably released several dozen times. Then after the century turned I became fond of saying, "The Season is OVER." This is the most richly arrogant way to react to a loss, I think. I am unhappy, and therefore I wish everyone else to pick up their gloves and bats and go home. What do I do now, in 2010? I write strange stuff in an obscure Dodger blog.* I think this is progress.

It is amazing how much one pinch hit Manny home run will alter one's predictions. Without that home run, my projected DEEP** record for the Dodgers is 77-85, but with it, my projected DEEP record for the Dodgers is 90-72. That's a 13 game swing, based on one swing! Isn't that great?

I actually wonder if I dreamed that home run. I hit a mid-day wall right about the eighth inning on Sunday, and I lay down on the sofa, and one thing led to another and I had an unintentional micro-nap. I remember Manny being announced as the pinch hitter, or something, and then there was darkness, and then I remember looking at the TV and seeing that the score was 2-1, in favor of the Dodgers, and then watching a replay of Manny's home run. Boy did that wake me up.

As for Saturday's game, I missed it completely, and so I am unburdened by any memories of what may or may not have occurred that day in Dodger Stadium. Don't tell me! My DEEP projections do not factor in anything that happened on Saturday at all. All I know is the Dodgers won the series from the Giants and the season is most assuredly not over. Thank you, Manny. ( Uh, and also thanks to Kershaw and Broxton too, I guess. )

* --- No, not this blog. Come on now, Dodgerama isn't obscure. My other Dodger blog, the obscure one, is called Dodgerbeardandsideburnanalysis dot com.

** --- DEEP = Dodgerama Emotion Engine Predictor

16 April 2010

Panic Averted

I was so ready to panic. 3-6 loomed like a death sentence. The Dodger bullpen had failed again. The Dodgers offense had failed in crucial moments, again. The Dodgers played defense like they were wearing high heels. Failure, a broken season. I knew I couldn't write that, that overreaction, but my imagination failed me. My early season reserve was gone. What would I call the post I would make, when I pretended that I wasn't panicking? The only title I had in my mind was an evasion of the doom before us, a wish --- they still might win --- panic averted. That was the only title I had. And I get to use it!

From the perspective of a Snakes fan it is also a failure of defense and relief and clutch hitting. Funny how that works. For the fans it is their teams that are the primary agents of change. Qualls and Drew and Boyer too. Oh, and what about Hinch? His decision to walk Kemp to get to Ethier and then not walk Ethier when the runners advanced was a bit like doubling Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom but leaving Kobe wide open at the buzzer. I think a legitimate defense of Hinch can be organized but his decisions just felt wrong at the time. Wrong for his team, anyway.

The Dodger bullpen is still a mess, but maybe help is on the way. As Vinny last night reminded us Kuo and Belisario may be back soon. Oh, what a boon it would be to have a healthy Kuo. If these two come back, I suppose the most likely candidates to leave are the Ortizes. Unless the Dodgers decide to cut loose Monasterios, but that seems premature.

The Giants come into Los Angeles with a 7-2 record. It would be rash for me to say the Dodgers have to win two of three in this series, but it would be dishonest for me to say that I could stay in the neighborhood of a rational perspective if they don't take two of three. The Giants have strode confidently into the NL West saloon and declared themselves contenders. The Dodgers are stammering in a corner, too self conscious to declare anything about themselves. "Maybe we're contenders" the Dodgers mumble, as they nervously chew on some licorice. Wake up, Dodgers, or you'll get punched in the jaw and laid out on the floor with the Giants cackling over you. Four straight years the Dodgers have looked down on the Giants. That's not enough. We need at least three more years of the Dodgers finishing over the Giants to make up for what happened between these teams from 1997-2003. The Dodgers open the series with Vicente Padilla. This is a bit like walking up to the Giants in the NL West saloon and offering them some licorice. "Be my friend?" say the Dodgers meekly, as they offer the licorice like a nerd. Slam! Onto the floor. I sure hope not. The Giant starter tonight is Todd Wellenmeyer, who has an early season earned run average (ESERA) of 5.68. Sounds promising for the Dodgers, except Padilla's ESERA is more than twice that! Sigh. The lesson here? Never bring a stick of licorice to a knife fight.

15 April 2010

Who Gets This Loss?

We can start with Russ Ortiz, who gave up the deciding runs to the Snakes and was tagged with the official loss. He had some bad luck, and threw some bad pitches. Two walks, half his pitches out of the strike zone. No strikeouts. Pretty typical stuff from him. He'll have better games; he'll have luckier games. But he'll also have a lot more games exactly like last night. The moment he took the mound in the eleventh the game seemed lost.

We need to shift our perspective, because Russ Ortiz may be the technical answer but he is not the answer that matters. If not him it would have been someone else from the back end of the bullpen giving up runs. It's just not a very good 'pen right now. Broxton is good, and the Troncuilizer is steady, and Weaver seems to get the job done more than one would think, and then? The Ortizes and the Rule 5 guy and Sherrill the peril. It's not a bullpen you want to see a lot of, and yet they're always needed, and often early, because the starters usually don't go deep into games. And that brings us to Billingsley.

If any pitcher really deserved this loss it was Billingsley. What happened to him? He was so great through three innings, and then --- what? I notice that he threw everything low, especially late in the game. Keep the ball down in the zone, analysts often say, and I think this is probably good advice, but maybe the hitters just got locked into all this low stuff. Maybe his pitches lost their bite later in the game. I wonder if his fastball got straighter as he tired? There must be some explanation. Billingsley has the ability to dominate, as the first three innings show. The answer isn't just that he's not a good pitcher. But something happened. Maybe it is mental, but what changed in the fourth inning to turn him into a mental wreck? I just don't see it. The mid-game fade has become standard for Billingsley, that is clear, but less clear is an explanation, a reason. For all his ability it appears to me his career is in peril. Early stage peril.

The offense is in peril too, peril of being wasted. 2010 may be the opposite of 2003, when the Dodgers squandered brilliant pitching because they just couldn't score any runs. The 2010 offense looks so good, but it just can't keep up with the awfulness of the pitching. The pitching will probably get better, but the offense will also get worse. The Dodgers aren't going to score 6.5 runs a game all year. As much as the offense can blame the pitching last night, the offense is not without blame; they left plenty of chances unfulfilled. That will happen, though. Seven runs in nine innings is enough. The blame must go to the pitching. But how did the pitching get into this state? That, perhaps, is where the true blame must lie.

There is a malaise around this team. It comes from ownership, from the divorce. There was, perhaps, nothing sensible for the Dodgers to do this offseason, but if there was, if you think there was, would the Dodgers have been in a position to do it? What about now? Is there any chance that the team would pay any money to improve the pitching staff in the middle of this year? This is the team we get in 2010, it seems. No ace is going to join the team. The pitchers will have to improve, or the Dodgers will finish around 0.500.

At least, if the Dodgers end up losing 80 or more games, I hope they don't all take four hours.

13 April 2010

How These Dodgers Opened

Ra. Ortiz-----R122,3,43,44
Ru. Ortiz-CCC,11+,22,33,44

Chart Legend

C = College
R = rookie league
1 = A
1+ = high A
2 = AA
3 = AAA
4 = The Show!

DSL = Dominican Summer League
In = Independent Leagues
- = injured, or in high school, or other
italics = short stint at that level, usually a month or less
? = not established as a major leaguer yet

All ages and minor league levels are taken from data at thebaseballcube.com. Minor League stints after a player becomes an established major leaguer are not shown. The chart for each player ends in the year he put in a full year at the major league level. Hiroki Kuroda is not in the chart. His first full season in the Japanese Central League came in his age 22 season.

I've had some trouble formatting the chart correctly, but I think it should be fine now. The rightmost column should be the age 29 column.

12 April 2010

The Narrative

I'm going to again respond to a comment in a new post, because it is just so fascinating, and so representative of certain ways of thinking about baseball players. I think it bears further investigation. The argument is about Russ Ortiz and whether he belongs on the Dodger pitching staff. On one side is me, maternal basement dwelling blogger* and on the other side is an anonymous commenter. Basically, my case against Russ Ortiz is that the last time he pitched well was 2004. My opponent replies to the stats with a narrative, and I respect that. This is the only rational way to argue Russ Ortiz's case, I think. Here is the narrative in support of Russ Ortiz:

I'm sure you don't know much about Ortiz' pre-Tommy John injury to the rib cage when with the Diamondbacks that affected his mechanics. I'm also sure you don't know how eager Leo Mazzone (who worked with Ortiz when he was with the Braes) was to pick him up with the Orioles, still before his surgery. You can't possibly know how he was jerked around by the Astros, yanked in and out of the bullpen (which doesn't work for a lifetime starter), then waived -- then Cooper (the real problem) was fired himself by management for mis-management of the staff. You probably didn't see how quick both New York and Colorado (both competing for playoff spots) wanted to secure Ortiz in their systems last spring. You also have no idea how his arm is now, how much he's recovered, and how well he's throwing -- like hie did when he had the type of experience most Dodgers just dream of...of pitching critical games in the World Series - VERY effectively.

This, to me, reads much as a Spring Training Piece would. We are given all the reasons why a player is about to turn it around, why he hasn't been able to fulfill his potential before, but now! Now! Things are different. And, you know, they might be. I like a good turn-around story. But I never would have cast Russ Ortiz as the lead in that turn-around story.

Ortiz is the hero in this proposed story, and like any good story the hero must face adversity. Injuries. Surgery. Teams jerking him around. He's had a fall, from near World Series hero** to yet another example of the folly of giving out big free agent contracts to starting pitchers. So, fate has been unkind to him. But also, people believe in him! Contenders wanted him last year. Legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone wanted him. And now the Dodgers want him. So there is this tension, between what he could be and what he was made to be by circumstance. The end to this story is supposed to be that Russ Ortiz has had it in him all along to be a good pitcher, and this season he will finally show it. Something like that, right?

But I just don't buy this story. I don't find the proposed ending believable. Because, you know, I've seen it before. You can tell the same story ( or a similar one ) about lots of washed up pitchers every year. He's finally healthy. He's finally fixed his mechanics. He's finally away from the assholes on that other team who just didn't use him right, who didn't really believe in him. This is not a new story. I know how it ends, more than 90% of the time, at least. It ends with the pitcher still not being very good. And the thing is, I can't remember any other pitcher coming in to the Dodgers with a worse track record in his previous 5 years than Russ Ortiz. It's epic! I've seen pitchers come in and do well after one or two years in the wilderness. But it needs to be one hell of a narrative to convince me that Ortiz has something left and this one just doesn't do it.

Is there any possible rebutting narrative that could convince me to ignore five years of terrible stats? It would have to be a drastic change. Maybe if he had suddenly become a knuckleballer, and worked on perfecting his command of the chaos pitch all offseason. Or if they had invented some new kind of surgery to fix him, Russ Ortiz surgery, and now he was coming back with a fully repaired arm, a modern day Tommy John. But he's just a 36 year old pitcher who hasn't pitched well since he was 30.

So there it is. The Narrative is just not compelling enough. I think the commenter has done about as well as he or she could do with the material there is to work with, but it just wasn't to be. We will see how well Ortiz pitches this year, and I am sure he will have games where he gets the job done. He already has. But I think the Dodgers could have done better, even with all the injuries to relievers they have faced. I think he will have a lot of bad games.

If he does turn out to be a good pitcher, I think that will be one hell of a story.

* -- It is a huge basement, and also completely above ground, and miles away from the rest of my mother's house, but there are those who say that we never really escape the shadow of our parents, so maybe in some symbolic way it is my mother's basement. But I don't have dialup. I mean, come on.

** -- Shouldn't Russ Ortiz have some responsibility for the jinx game ball that Dusty Baker gave him in game 6 of the 2002 World Series? He could have refused it, right? He could have said, "Dusty, what are you doing? The game isn't over yet! You can't give me a game ball! You'll invite the wrath of the baseball dryads and we'll lose!" Instead he took the ball and the doom of the Giants was sealed. Let no one say that I don't appreciate Russ Ortiz's intangible role in the Giants coughing up the World Series in 2002. ( On a more serious note, as long as what he did in the World Series counts, he was terrible in game 2. Gave up 7 runs. )

11 April 2010

Hammering Russ Ortiz

Comments are a rarity around here, and combative comments even rarer, so I thought it might be fun to rebut this one in a separate post:

Why are you hammering on Russ Ortiz? He's had ONE bad inning since the beginning of spring - two lights-out appearances in Pittsburgh, and one tough inning at Florida - it was Broxton who gave up the double. And it has been Sherrill who has sucked all spring, and now again tonight. Russ Ortiz has been GREAT this year, and a great find for the Dodgers. Why hacks like you, on blogs like this, can't do your homework - it's beyond me.

From 2001 to 2004, Russ Ortiz had a better than average ERA every year. His ERA+ numbers those years, according to baseballreference.com: 122, 107, 113, 105. Or if you prefer straight ERA: 3.29, 3.61, 3.81, 4.13. But there was a warning sign already in Ortiz's performance, for anyone willing to heed it, and I'm not just talking about the rising ERAs. His strikeout to walk ratio was 1.5 to 1 in 2003 and 1.3 to 1 in 2004. Those are not good ratios. Eventually they will catch up to you. Even in the offseason after 2004, if you really did your homework, you could tell that Russ Ortiz wasn't as good as he appeared. The Arizona Diamondbacks didn't heed the warnings. The Snakes signed him to a 4 year, 33 million contract, and the next phase of Russ Ortiz's career began.

In 2005 at age 31, Russ Ortiz posted a 6.89 ERA for the Snakes. In 2006 he was even worse, and the Snakes released him even though they owed him another 20 million or so. His ERA between the Snakes and the Orioles in 2007 was 8.14. In 2007, he returned to the Giants, the team of his youth, but he didn't find the fountain of youth. He posted an ERA of 5.51. Which was a huge improvement, and yet still awful! His 2007 season was actually cut short by Tommy John surgery, and he missed all of 2008 recovering, and then in spring training of 2009 he posted an ERA of 3.18. So --- maybe the surgery had fixed whatever was wrong with him? No. He ended 2009 with an ERA of 5.57 and the Astros released him. His spring training ERA in 2009 was irrelevant to his performance when it counted in 2009.

So why should his spring training performance this year matter? Why should a small sample of good performance in games that don't matter partially against non-major league players count more than four years of terrible results in games that do matter? His combined ERA in those four years is 6.56. His ERA+ is 68. He has walked a total of 173 and struck out 182. That is just awful. It is really unfathomable that a pitcher can be so awful over a period of four years ( with one year completely missed ) and yet still be in the big leagues. Russ Ortiz's last good season came when he was 30. He is 36 now. It is madness to think he can be a contributing pitcher this year.

I am asked why I am hammering Russ Ortiz. The problem isn't that I'm hammering Russ Ortiz. The problem is that batters have been hammering him since 2005 and there is no reason to think they won't continue in 2010.