30 April 2007

Snakes Preview: A bunch of 24 year-olds

I tried to come up with the typical recent Snakes lineup, but it just isn't possible. The Snakes have so many young players starting up their major league careers that they don't seem to have any set lineup. They have 4 outfielders who play a lot, a near platoon at first base, and a 3 man rotation on the left side of the infield.


Hairston -- LF
Young -- CF
Quentin -- RF
Byrnes -- CF, LF, RF


Drew -- SS
Tracy -- 3B
Hunson -- 2B
Callaspo -- SS, 3B
Jackson -- 1B
Clark -- 1B
Snyder -- C

The pitching matchups are Wolf v Webb, Penny v Hernandez, and Hendrikson v Davis. I think Wolf will do well and give the Dodgers a fighting chance against the Snakes ace, but the Snakes still have to be favored in this game, especially since the Dodgers may rest some starters after their 17 inning victory of the Padres. If Hendrickson continues his great pitching then the Dodgers should win the last two. The Dodgers better plan on winning at least two out of three at home with first place on the line. I'll be at the first game of the series, and I'll have observer's notes on the game tomorrow.

The Snakes have a good young team that hasn't quite put it all together offensively yet. None of the big four prospects of Drew, Jackson, Quentin or Young is playing like the Snakes hope so far. Even so they've still scored a healthy amount of runs, 107, good for 4.1 per game. They've also given up 107 runs, so they're a bit lucky to have a record of 15-11 so far. In contrast, the Dodgers record of 15-10 goes along with a 120-92 runs scored to runs allowed record. The scary thing about the Snakes is that it seems like just a matter of time before all these young players start hitting. If they do, the Dodgers will really have to play well to stay ahead of them.

Player capsules:

Orlando Thill Hudson

age: 29

0.340 -- 0.402 -- 0.510

"Thill the thrill" is the anchor of the Snakes offense. He's the only constant in the lineup, having batted third and played second base in every game. He leads the Snakes in on-base percentage and is second in slugging to only part time first baseman Tony Clark.

This is the good news. The bad news is that his terrific production may not last. The following chart compares his batting averages along with his and on-base percentages minus batting average and slugging percentages minus batting average during his career.

Year -- AVG -- (OBP-AVG) -- (SLG-AVG)
2002 -- 0.276 -- 0.043 -- 0.167
2003 -- 0.268 -- 0.060 -- 0.127
2004 -- 0.270 -- 0.071 -- 0.168
2005 -- 0.271 -- 0.044 -- 0.141
2006 -- 0.287 -- 0.067 -- 0.167
2007 -- 0.340 -- 0.062 -- 0.170

His power hasn't improved this year, nor has ability to draw a walk. All the improvement is in the batting average, so if that falls off, he's back to being the same player he used to be.

Or perhaps not quite ... Hudson does appear to have improved slightly since coming over to Arizona after the 2005 season, even if his batting average falls back down to 0.290 or so. A second baseman who puts up a 0.800 OPS is still pretty good. Or he could keep the batting average gain, for all anyone knows. I may have a deeper look at his numbers at hardballtimes.com later in the week.

The Dodger pitchers will want to keep the ball in on him, or try to get him to chase low stuff out of the strike zone.

Christopher Brandon Young

Age: 23

0.208 -- 0.262 -- 0.351

He hasn't shown anything yet in 150 major league at bats. He's still considered a player with a bright future, though. He was ranked 23 among prospects by Baseball America in 2006, and Baseball Prospectus's projection system really likes him. He might have the biggest upside of any Snakes prospect/young player, but right now he's just a hole in the lineup.

Stephen Oris Drew

Age: 24

0.264 -- 0.350 -- 0.368

He had a 0.874 OPS last year. He's having a slightly slow start, but still decent numbers. A 0.350 OBP from a shortstop is always nice, and the Snakes know that will only improve. His seems to hit lefties better than righties, which is strange since Drew is a lefty batter. He was ranked 5 in Baseball America's prospect list in 2006. The Snakes had him leading off to start the year, but since he's been dropped in the order.

Carlos J. Quentin

Age: 24

0.184 -- 0.295 -- 0.342

Another big-time prospect who isn't yet producing for the Snakes. He did well in 166 AB last year with a 0.872 OPS. Was ranked 20 in Baseball America's prospect list in 2006.

Conor S. Jackson

Age: 24

0.217 -- 0.351 -- 0.267

The last of the big 4 Snake prospects, and the second in a row that I couldn't find a middle name on. Grrr. Anyway, he gets on base but that's it so far. The dilemma the Snakes have here is that they have another first baseman on the team who is hitting a home run every 10 at bats: Tony Clark. If they want to go all out and win now, they might want to play Clark more often. But the Snakes are going with the youth movement, with an eye to dominating in 2008 and beyond, so it makes sense that Jackson has started most of the time at first base. And truthfully he will likely outperform Clark for this year anyway. He did pretty well in 2006, with an OPS of 0.809 in about 500 at bats. He was ranked 17 on the 2006 Baseball America list.

Chad Austin Tracy

Age: 26

0.293 -- 0.398 -- .0476

Right now Hudson has better percentages, but Tracy will likely retake the lead in OBP and SLG by the end of the eyar. 2006 was actually a down year for him after a great 2005, and he appears to be hitting more like 2005 so far. The Snakes offense is scary, when you consider that in addition to the big four, and all the other prospects still in the farm system, that they also have a terrific 26 year old hitter like Tracy.

One caveat with him is that in his career his OPS gets a 90 point bump at home. He's not quite the same hitter on the road that he is in the Disneyfied confines of Bank Ballpark. The other red flag with him is that he only has a 0.631 OPS against lefty pitchers. Two of the Dodger starters in the series will be lefties, and obviously the series is away from Phoenix, so the Dodgers have a leg up on stopping him.

Scott Alexander Hairston

Age: 26

0.220 -- 0.313 -- 0.373

Finally, a young player who isn't good or supposed to be good. I'm not sure why he'd ever get a start over Byrnes.

Tony Clark

Age: 34

0.250 -- 0.295 -- 0.575

4 homers in 40 at bats, but not much else. If he plays, the Dodger pitchers better watch it, though. A switch-hitter, he's doing all his damage as a left-handed batter, so only Penny needs to worry about him among the starters. He won't start against Wolf or Hendrickson most likely.

Eric James Byrnes

Age: 31

0.270 -- 0.339 -- 0.420

One of Vin Scully's favorites. Strangely he does better on the road than at home since he came over to Arizona. He also mashes lefties, so unlike Tracy, everything sets up for him in this series. In fact he should be more dangerous than Tracy if all goes according to past numbers. The Dodger pitchers will want to keep it inside on him.

Alberto Jose Callaspo

Age: 24

0.212 -- 0.268 -- 0.258

Another prospect-type who's struggling so far. Only he's doing far worse than any of the others. Like all the other 24 year olds, it's way too soon to know how he'll turn out.

Christopher Ryan Snyder

Age 26

0.211 -- 0.340 -- 0.316

He had an OBP of 0.349 last year, and he's following that up nicely in spite of the crappy batting average. His backup Montero has more power but doesn't get on base as much. Catcher is not a position where the Snakes are expecting to find any offense.

Brandon Tyler Webb

Age: 27

ERA: 3.60

Webb is walking more batters than usual so far this year, which is why his OBP allowed is up to .333 from 0.289 last year. He'll probably recover from this. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is even better than ever at over 6, up from 4 the last two years. His strikeout ratio is also better than ever. It's those walks that are keeping him from a sub 3 ERA so far. The Dodgers have to draw some walks and hope their grounders find the holes; this is still a really tough pitcher to hit.

Colorado seems to have figured out how to hit him; in two games against the Rockies he's allowed 10 ER, and he's allowed just 4 ER in his other three starts combined.

One odd note: in spite of all the extra baserunners and extra ground balls, he's only induced 3 double play balls this year. At that rate he'll only have 20 or fewer on the year; last year he induced 30.

Eisler Livan Hernandez

Age: 32

ERA: 3.94

He's had one bad start this season, at Petco of all places. Otherwise he's been very good. I'm not sure how he's doing it, though. He only has 13 strikeouts to 19 walks on the year. Only 1 HR given up so far helps. If the Dodgers are patient against him, I think they can really hit him. No first pitch swinging!

Douglas P. Davis

Age: 31

ERA: 2.79

He wasn't much last year for Milwaukee with a 4.91 ERA. He's rotation filler off to a hot start this year. He's another starter not allowing home runs: the three Snake starters in the series have only allowed a total of 5 combined so far. But he has 16 walks allowed so far to only 21 strikeouts. Maybe he'll pull a Matt Morris on the Dodgers, but I don't think so. They should hit him.

29 April 2007


We'd had enough.

My wife was standing in the doorway with her bike, ready to go out. The Dodgers and Padres had delayed our afternoon bike ride long enough, and we were going to go even though the game was still dragging on, inning after inning of the Dodgers stranding runners and the Padres making even Rudy Seanez look like an ace reliever.

It was the top of the seventeenth inning at this point. I watched Kent take his at-bat and hit a ball that I fantasized was a home run but in reality went into Cruz's glove, where all Dodger would-be big hits seemed to go to die in this game. Then we were ready to go, but Valdez was up, and I just couldn't let go ... I kept saying, "one more pitch". So it was that we saw him get on base on the error, and we both cheered that, but my wife was still ready to go. She didn't think the Dodgers would score with us watching. I almost went along with going right then, but then I remember that Russ Martin was coming up. "We have to watch him bat," I said. So we did, and Martin popped up, and I bitterly said, "That should have been a double". I'm not sure why I thought a pop-up should have been a double. I guess I just expect a lot of Russ, or not very much of the Padre fielders.

And then we left, because I figured that was the end any real chance in the inning and the Dodgers would just strand another runner. As it happened, the very next batter doubled and gave the Dodgers the eventual winning run, so we just missed seeing it. I found out what happened when I called my mother from the bike trail for news of the Dodgers. It's pretty galling to watch 16+ innings but miss seeing the most important hit of the game, but my wife insisted if we had stuck around Clark wouldn't have got the double. We had to leave for the Dodgers to win.

This is nonsense, of course, but I suppose it's about the same as all the superstitions about not talking about a no-hitter while it's going. And we have had a strange TV voodoo work for us before. Once in 2006 we were watching a long extra inning game and my wife kept insisting that we had to mute the TV when the Dodgers were up, and I kept telling her this was just silly, and when I finally relented and let her mute it feeble-hitting Ramon Martinez hit a home run to win the game.

During this most recent game we tried moving cats around to affect the outcome. One cat was the slump cat, and he had to be out of the room, while the other was the rally cat, and she needed to be able to see the TV. The cat thing didn't work, though; or perhaps the cats could only work their magic after the humans had left on their bikes. I hope their cat magic didn't involve throwing up in some obscure corner of our apartment.

If only Lowe hadn't walked Blum then it would have been a normal nine inning game. We're going to tomorrow's game at the Stadium, and we'll likely not get to see Martin play because of that walk. I think rather than start Lieberthal tomorrow, Little should make Lowe catch just to teach him a lesson. And Wolf will only be allowed to throw knuckleballs, to really make the lesson stick. I bet Lowe will never walk Blum again if Little does that.

Position Battles of the LA Dodgers: April 2007

Every team evaluates its options at each position during the season. Sometimes there is uncertainty in the current starters at a position. More often the starter at a position is known and not under review, while the backup and future starters at that position may be subject to competition and change. For example, Furcal is clearly and unquestionably the Dodgers starting shortstop, barring injury. But is the primary backup shortstop Valdez or Martinez? Is the shortstop of the future Chin-Lung Hu or Ivan DeJesus Jr., or a re-signed Furcal? And then sometimes everything about a postion is known. The Dodgers know exactly who their catcher ( Martin ), future catcher ( Martin ), and backup catcher ( Lieberthal ) is right now. There is no competition there.

The Dodgers are clearly set in their starters at second base, shortstop, and catcher, and they are probably set in center field and left field. But their starters at third base, first base and right field are all subject to varying degrees of competition. In the case of first base there may be no true competition, just talk among media and fans, while in the case of third base there is clearly no certainty at the moment.

I will note that it is a great boon to the Dodgers that they are so settled up the middle, especially at short, second, and catcher. It’s much easier to have quality competitions among good players at the corner spots than it is up the middle. The only way the Dodgers can lost in their position battles is if they stubbornly hold on to obviously weak players such as Valdez when there are better options available.

Third Baseman of the Now: Valdez v. Betemit

If we believe the report that the only reason Valdez started his second game in a row Saturday was because Betemit was ill, then Betemit may still have the upper hand in this battle. Betemit is younger and shown much more in previous seasons than Valdez has. The defense of both players has been excellent. Valdez’s superior batting average to date this season is the only advantage he has over Betemit.

2007 AVG -- OBP -- SLG:
Betemit -- 0.133 -- 0.300 -- 0.178
Valdez -- 0.282 -- 0.317 -- 0.385

The record of Betemit before this season is clearly superior, including last year.

2006 OPS:
Betemit -- NL -- 0.795
Valdez -- PCL -- 0.747

I think Betemit is barely hanging on to a majority of the starts at third base for the moment. His lack of power and lack of any hits has to be deeply discouraging to the Dodgers. He’s hurt them at the plate, only avoiding being a complete disaster with all his walks. Fair or not, a lot of his walks may be dismissed because he usually bats eighth in front of the pitcher.

Betemit’s strikeout after having a 3-0 count with the bases loaded in the last game of the Giants sweep of the Dodgers has become his defining moment. It’s human nature to remember one or two moments and allow them to stand in for a player’s complete body of work. A vivid description or memory of a single moment is more emotionally persuasive in argument than a bunch of numbers. Betemit’s strikeout against Russ Ortiz became a sort of confirmation of his uselessness among those who had already become convinced by his poor hitting that he was likely irredeemably useless.

It was an awful strikeout, to be sure. I will admit I did lose a bit of confidence in Betemit after that, much more than is logical from one at-bat. But it is after all just one at-bat. Even though many fans are letting this strikeout weigh heavy against Betemit, I hope the Grady and Ned do not.

I think if Betemit still has a batting average below 0.180 two weeks from now, he won’t be getting much playing time any more. I don’t think the Dodgers will carry a non-proven veteran who can’t bat 0.200 after more than a month of the season. I’m not saying this is right ... it’s just what I think will happen.

Third Baseman of the Future: Betemit v. LaRoche

LaRoche had a 0.950 OPS in half a season at Las Vegas last year, though he only has a 0.671 OPS in 74 AB there this season. He’s 23, two years younger than Wilson Betemit. It’s hard to compare the two, since they haven’t ever played at the same level at the same time yet. I think the only way to really know who should win this competition is after LaRoche is called up to the major leagues. Of course, that may not happen until after the Dodgers have given up on Betemit.

I’ve never really been sold on Betemit as the third baseman of the Dodgers future. He may be a fine player at some point, but LaRoche has been rated as a top prospect by many people.

What I would like is for LaRoche to be called up and Valdez released. Then Betemit and LaRoche could split the starts at third base for at least 6 weeks, and may the best man see his playing time increase at the expense of the other thereafter. I don’t think this will happen, though. More likely LaRoche will be called up sometime after the All-Star break, after Valdez has replaced Betemit and then proceeded to play at his true weak level.

Utility Infielder: Valdez v. Martinez

I don’t think the Dodgers should carry both of these guys, especially with LaRoche, Kemp, and Loney all deserving spots on the big league roster. Neither of these guys offers anything to the Dodgers in the future. They do need to carry one of them to have a backup at shortstop, of course.

I hope this is a competition that will become a reality, with a clear loser who is booted off the roster. I vote for Ramon to win, but I really don’t care, as long as one of them loses. I think it will have to happen eventually.

Right Fielder: Kemp v. Ethier

This is a competition that shouldn’t even happen. I want both of these guys in the starting lineup, or at least both starting 5 times a week. I’m not sure the past stats really tell us that much in this case. Both Kemp and Ethier has stretches of greatness last year, followed by stretches of weak hitting that knocked them out of the starting lineup.

The competition that should be happening is between Pierre and one of these guys, but it will take at least another two months of Pierre not hitting at all for that to have even a chance of happening, I fear.

I think Kemp is the likely winner of this competition. It seems that he’s finally figured out this curveball thing. He’s going to bash into way into the Dodgers starting lineup soon enough. My only complaint: that’s not soon enough.

Maximum Value Position for Nomar: First v. Third

Does all the pivoting Nomar have to do everytime he runs to first to field a throw an injury risk? He’s not left-handed, so he has to make a 180 degree turn every time he has to field a throw at first base. Isn’t that more of a strain than making a few extra throws from third base?

Nomar has an OPS of 0.793 right now at first base. That’s not really acceptable at this position, is it? ( Last year he was at 0.872, which is probably okay. ) Nomar’s offensive production would look better if he was playing third base. The real benefit of such a move would be to get Loney up to the big club and into the lineup. Between Loney, Betemit, and LaRoche, who is the best bet to produce offensively? I think the answer is Loney. He destroyed the PCL last year, is still doing better than LaRoche this year, and showed something in his second callup to LA last year. Free Loney!

Note: I will examine the pitching battles sometimes next week.

28 April 2007

Loose Padre Ends

I missed that he would come off the DL yesterday, so Bard's capsule is one day late:

Joshua David Bard

Bard has turned into an on-base-machine at a somewhat late point in his career. Even at Petco he above a 0.400 OBP last year.

From the ages of 24-27 he was up and down between the minor leagues and Cleveland ( and the DL ), and never showed much in the way of hitting at the highest level. He started to put things together once he came to Boston, and he really blossomed after being traded along with Cla Meredith to San Diego. What an awful trade that was from a Dodger fan's perspective!

He has a little bit of power at Petco, hitting 5 homers there last year. He's a switch hitter, and appears to be equally good from either side of the plate. The one caveat in all of this is that he still has only 300 at bats of playing at his current high level.

It helps the Padre lineup if he's in the game, obviously. He's a high ball hitter. This is another batter that Lowe should dominate if his pitches are working.

27 April 2007

Dodgers Defy Despair! Petco 'Pen No Longer Perfect!

One outfielder held onto the ball, the other could not. Eithier kept the Dodgers close with his diving catch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning, while Cameron could not hold onto the ball or the tie off Martin's drive to deep center field.

All night the Dodgers were hitting the ball hard, or at least semi-hard, and the hits never seemed to fall in, especially when runners were on. Maybe these balls the Padres kept catching weren't really hit that hard, and I was suffering the delusions of a frustrated, bitter, just-swept-by-the-Giants Dodger fan. Whatever the case, the hits finally started to fall in the ninth inning. I was sure the ball Marlon hit would carry to Cameron and be caught, but no, it fell in. When Nomar hit his ball, I was sure some fielder would glide back and over and snare it for the second out, but that fell in too. And then Cameron couldn't hold on to Martin's drive, and the Dodgers had the lead.

One closer survived the pressure of the ninth, while the other could not. Saito was once again amazing, except for those two pitches ( home run, hit batter ) when he wasn't. He reminds me a lot of Gagne. Their stuff isn't the same, of course, but the variety is similar, the way they keep batters off-balance with a variety of pitches that unexpectedly dip or seem to explode through a hidden corner of the strike zone. Saito, like Gagne before him, seems to mesmerize umpires into calling pitches for strikes that look at awful lot like balls. And they both project purity of emotion; Saito is joy, Gagne is intensity.

Hoffman was not amazing: he allowed three hard drives into the outfield. I felt all along that he was the most vulnerable of the Padre relievers, much more so than Linebrink or Meredith. But the real goat of the game was Adrian Gonzalez. To me he was the author of the play of the game when he fielded Furcal's bunt and chose to first look to second. This let the tying runs on, when all he needed to worry about was getting outs. If Marlon had been the tying run, then it might be excusable to worry about getting him out, even though it’s unlikely you’ll throw a man out at second on a drag bunt, but in the situation he faced there was no excuse. Adrian Gonzalez's decision was as bad as a batter trying to stretch for a double in the ninth down by two and getting thrown out. Everyone on the field should be aware of the game situation.

Tonight was an exorcism of all the demons of the Giant sweep. It may seem silly to say one game can do that, but that's the attitude I want to take. The morning before this game I woke up at 5am and couldn't fall back asleep because I kept thinking about how awful the last loss to the Giants was, about how many chances the Dodgers had blown both at the plate and in the field. This game shows that it won't always be that way. The Dodgers can get the big hit, even if they take 8 innings to get there. They can make the big catch. And they can lunge in for the kill when the opponent slips up.

There is nothing like a comeback Dodger win.

Padre Preview: Petco 'Pen Perfectionists

Padres usual lineup of late, along with 2007 OBP:

2B -- M Giles -- 0.365
LF -- Cruz Jr -- 0.456
RF -- B Giles -- 0.356
1B -- Gonzalez -- 0.369
CF -- Cameron -- 0.276
SS -- Greene -- 0.326
3B -- Kouzmanoff -- 0.197
C -- Bowen -- 0.353

Sledge plays a bit too.

The pitching matchups are Hendrikson vs Hensley, Tomko vs Maddux, and Lowe vs Wells. I think the Dodgers should be able to take 2 out of 3 of these, and really they have a good shot at all three given the pitching matchups. But given their play of late, and the Padre pitching strength at home, including their great bullpen, the Dodgers may struggle to even avoid the sweep. The Dodgers had great matchups against the Giants and it got them nothing, even with the bad Giant bullpen. The Padre bullpen excepting one is still perfect at home, with only Michael Paul Thompson giving up any runs so far. The Padres have 9 pitchers with a 0.00 ERA at home.

And now, a capsule for every Padre regular and starting pitcher in the series.

Khalil Thabit Greene

A shortstop with an OPS of 0.847 the last three years: what's not to like?

Okay, that's his road OPS. At home he's Neifi Perez.

--------- Petco -- Road
OBP -- 0.306 -- 0.340
SLG -- 0.340 -- 0.507

The Dodger pitchers can't let him go all Bengie Molina on them and hit well, though. This time around they have to take advantage of the holes in the opposing lineup. And Vinny has to lay off that story about how Greene got his name. These are the two resolutions I want the Dodger organization to make.

Michael Terrence Cameron

He's not bothered by Petco. But he is bothered by April, especially the current one. If Hendrikson and Tomko can keep the ball down or away from him, or especially both, they should be fine. I imagine that in the scout meeting right now Hendrikson is being told he'll be fine if he can spot his curveball down and away to Cameron, to which Hendrikson replies, "Do I look like I have the career ERA of a pitcher who can reliably spot his curveball?"

Another player the Dodgers need to turn into an out machine.

Adrian Gonzalez

No middle name for him, I guess. He's a dangerous hitter, though he does take a small hit in his stats at Petco. Home OPS is 0.815. He likes the ball up. Lowe should do well against him; if he doesn't, then he'll likely have a bad Sunday against everyone because that means his sinker isn't working. Hendrikson and Tomko should probably just avoid pitching to him altogether.

Robert McClure Bowen

He's a backup catcher turned into starter because Josh Bard strained his groin. Is that a common catcher injury?

The important fact is he's a backup catcher. He should struggle at the plate, right? His career OBP is 0.312. But that's the sort of OBP Molina was carrying from last year and look what he did against the Dodgers good pitchers. What will Tomko and Hendrikson make of an OBP around 0.300, I wonder? Will they figure that 30% on base has to happen sometime, so it might as well be against them? Their answer may determine the fate of the series.

Kevin Kouzmanoff

I was looking forward to a cool middle name to go with "Kouzmanoff", but it's probably for the best that he's lacking one, since the temptation to go with all K's might have been too much for his parents to resist, and then his initials would be rather unfortunate.

He's never hit in the big leagues yet, in all of 112 at bats. I presume he's better than his 0.238 OBP, but let's not have him start showing it against a couple of crappy Dodger pitchers, please.

Kouz had an OPS of 0.992 in 2005. The bad part is this was in high A ball at the age of 24. He made three jumps in 2006, to AA, then AAA, then NL. He showed a lot of power in AA and AAA, and famously hit a grand slam off his first pitch in the bigs, but has done nothing in the NL since.

This is another hitter the Dodger pitchers should and must keep down.

Jose Luis Cruz Jr.

AVG, OBP, and SLG so far in 2007:

Cruz: 0.367 -- 0.456 -- 0.673 -- 0 errors
Pierre: 0.263 -- 0.283 -- 0.305 -- 2 errors

Sigh ...

Brian Stephen Giles

He should have signed with the Dodgers. He'd fit right in with all the other players who have seen their power decline.

Overall the last three years: 0.282 -- 0.390 -- 0.451
Against the Dodgers the last three years: 0.244 -- 0.338 -- 0.354
At Petco the last three years: 0.272 -- 0.377 -- 0.430

He takes significant hits against the Dodgers and at Petco. The Dodger stats include over 200 ABs, but there's no reason to think they have anything to do with how he'll do against Hendrikson and Tomko.

The Dodger pitchers need to pitch him down and in. If there's no one on base, I think the Dodger pitchers should really challenge him, not let him get the free pass he relies on so often.

Marcus William Giles

His OPS at home the previous three years was 0.849. On the road it was 0.725. Most of the difference came in his power numbers: he still got on base at about a 0.350 clip on the road.

Unfortunately for Marcus, home isn't Turner field anymore, so he's looking at those road numbers as his full season numbers now. Or it could be even worse if Petco hurts him. He is another who's never hit well against the Dodgers.

Clayton Allen Hensley

He's 27, and his K/9 has never been above 6 for a season. So far this year he's walked 11 and struck out only 8 in 20 innings. This is a pitcher the Dodgers should hit. And they should have hit Ortiz, and they did to some extent, but they could never put him away. I fear the same thing will happen against the Padre pitchers.

The Dodgers lack the will of the warrior. By which I mean, the Dodger lack the will of the home run hitter.

Back to Hensley ... his ERA is 9.45 this year. Of course he's not that bad. Last year he had an ERA of 3.11 at Petco. So it's not out of the question that he could turn things around and pitch a gem against the Dodgers. He likes to pitch down and away. The Dodgers need to lay off this pitch, even sometimes when it's a tough strike that would only be a weak little grounder if hit. Work some walks, get some good pitches to hit by forcing him to pitch from behind in the count, and maybe they won't even need the home run to score 6 or more runs. They've done it before without the long ball.

The Dodgers should punish any hitter who chases low and away garbage by locking him in a small room with Rick Monday for an hour. It's time the Dodgers turn their organizational weaknesses into strengths.

Gregory Alan Maddux

I wonder if he and Hensley ever argue over the proper spelling of "Allan".

He has a mediocre ERA, and there's no reason to think it will get better. To be sure, he is at 3.18 so far at Petco. Nevertheless, at this point he's basically Mark Hendrikson with more Cy Youngs in his closet.

Again, this is a Padre the Dodgers could take advantage of. But as they showed in the Giant series, they aren't taking advantage of opposing team's weaknesses much lately.

Nothing else to say about Maddux. We all saw him pitch last year, sometimes brilliantly, other times not. He won't last more than 6 innings, likely.

David Lee Wells

Like Maddux, he's struggled on the road, including once against the Dodgers, and done well at Petco.

The Dodgers should lay off his curveball at all times with less than two strikes, since opponents bat only 0.244 on the curve vs 0.319 on the fastball. ( According to espn.com )

Also like Maddux, "Diamond" Dave Wells doesn't go deep into games. At least one of these games may come down to the Dodgers' ability to break through against the Padre bullpen at home. I close my eyes and see homeruns hit off of Cla Meredith. A man can dream, right?

25 April 2007

Durability vs Defense

There will be no Dodger sweep, and there will be no lockdown of the bottom of the Giants order. The bottom four have already been on base nine times, which is what I had hoped their total would be for the entire series. The Giants moved Aurilia over to third to get Klesko into the lineup and the awful Feliz out, a very wise move. Matt Morris was great, with a really evil curveball that he could throw for strikes. I wonder, is it possible that he's finally learned how to really pitch well without the plus fastball he used to have? If so, the Giants come a bit closer to being a threat.

Ethier misplayed a hard hit ball into a double last night. Now it was hit hard, and it's not clear that he absolutely should have caught it, but he certainly should have come closer to catching it. His jump was awful, and in the wrong direction. I have to wonder, is every starting outfielder the Dodgers have a defensive liability?

Pierre and Gonzalez have looked awful out there, both in terms of catching the ball and throwing. Kemp looked awful last year and was injured this year while failing to make a tough catch that he maybe should make. I thought having Lofton out there last year was bad, but so far I'd trust him over at least two of the three Dodger outfielders.

Dodger GM Ned Colletti doesn't appear to make outfield defense a high priority. I'm not saying that he doesn't value it, but that he values other things more, such as offensive production ( or reputation ) and durability. Contrast Ned's outfield acquisitions to previous Dodger GM Paul DePodesta's. Depodesta acquired Jayson Werth, JD Drew, and Milton Bradley, all excellent to good defenders, all capable of playing a decent center field, and all also somewhat injury prone. DePodesta was badly burned by his approach in 2005, and it was perhaps a contribution to his firing. Colletti may yet be burned by his approach as well.

The Dodgers don't have a lot of margin for error ( or errors ) in their quest to be a great or very good team. They don't have any true superstars, no Bonds or Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, no Johan Santana or Jake Peavy on the mound. They have a lot of good players. This is just supposition, but I believe that the Dodgers need to have at least average outfield defense to win 95 games. I just don't think their pitching and hitting is otherwise good enough to compensate for losing so many runs to bad outfield play.

Is it better to make durability or defense a priority when putting together an outfield? Both of these weaknesses will manifest themselves unpredictably, at random intervals. The difference is that injuries are rarer but more devastating events. It's reasonable to hope that an injury prone player could get lucky and go through an entire year without missing significant time. It's not reasonable to hope a bad defender won't hurt the team at all during the year. After some of Luis Gonzalez's worst outfield play, the ball wasn't hit near him at all for about four games, as if he was a nervous little leaguer whose prayer that the ball not be hit to him was granted. So there can be stretches where you get away with bad defense. Some games all the balls hit to you will be easy ones, as well, though we've seen even an easy ball is no guarantee that a Dodger outfielder will catch it. But eventually an outfielder will be tested again.

If durability is a weakness, you can get really lucky, and you can also get really unlucky. An entire season can be destroyed by a rash of injuries, or an entire season can be made by talented injury-prone players somehow making it through the year against the odds. If defense is a weakness, you pretty much know what you'll get over the long haul. You'll get wildly lucky or unlucky with the outfield defense in each individual game, but over the 162 games it will average out of a constant drone of runs leaking into the opponents' score column.

So, what is the answer, if forced to choose between injury-prone or error-prone outfielders? I think the approach of gambling with durability is best if the team wouldn't otherwise be good enough to win 90 games, if the only way to shoot for that total is to roll the dice with injury-risk players and hope they stay healthy. In particular, I don't fault DePodesta's approach in 2005. But if the rest of the team is good enough to carry a weakness, then having the durable, poor defenders is clearly better, since there isn't a catastrophic downside. We'll see if the 2007 Dodgers fit this description.

24 April 2007

Giants Preview: A Very Long Tail

Since Jeff Kent left the team after the 2002 season, the Giants have won with a two star method of getting great seasons from slugger Barry Bonds, very good seasons from pitcher Jason Schmidt, and collectively average production from everyone else. This method worked very well in 2003 and 2004, when Bonds was still healthy and otherworldly and Schmidt was still an elite pitcher. The Giants collapsed to 75 wins in 2005 when Bonds was hurt. But last year, when Bonds was mostly healthy, the two-star method didn't work, as both Schmidt and Bonds declined from their production of previous years.

Below is a table showing win shares for the Giants' two stars by year and the next closest pitcher and non-pitcher.

2003 -- 100 wins -- Bonds 39 -- ( Grissom 22 ) -- Schmidt 22 -- ( Worrell 13 )
2004 -- 91 wins -- Bonds 53 -- ( Snow 20 ) -- Schmidt 19 -- ( Tomko 9 )
2006 -- 76 wins -- Bonds 27 -- ( Durham 21 ) -- Schmidt 16 -- ( Cain 12 )

Here in 2007 the Giants are 9-8 thanks to a still active five game win streak. Schmidt has moved on to the Dodgers ( and the disabled list ). But Bonds appears rejuvenated, back to his 2004 level, while Matt Cain appears ready to seize the role of star pitcher. These two players are poised to combine for 60-70 win shares. If the Giants can get average production from everyone else, they might be able to grab 90 wins this season.

Now, it's not a given that Cain and Bonds will be able to reproduce what Schmidt and Bonds used to bring to the Giants, but it certainly looks promising, and I'll assume for the sake of argument that they will. The question, then, is with the rest of the players. Can they, collectively, be average?

First, a look at the Giant starting rotation, with ERAs of this year and last.

Pitcher -- 2007 ERA -- 2006 ERA

Cain -- 1.55 -- 4.15
Zito -- 3.70 -- 3.83
Lowry -- 2.70 -- 4.75
Morris -- 2.00 -- 4.98
Ortiz -- 4.35 -- 8.14

Aside from Bonds, pitching has been the story for the Giants this year. During their still active 5 game win streak, the Giants have given up 5, 2, 2, 0 and 1 runs. Every starter is outperforming his 2006 ERA so far.

I'm ready to believe that Cain's progress is for real. Not that he will carry a sub-2 ERA all year, of course, but he showed marked improvement in the second half of last year, and he appears to have leapt to a new level this year. The only concern is that his K rate per 9 innings is "only" 6.5, and he still walks plenty of batters.

I'm not ready to believe that Lowry and Morris have turned into sub-4 ERA pitchers, never mind sub-3 ERA pitchers. Morris's strikeout numbers tumbled after two great years in 2001 and 2002, haven't ever recovered, and there is no reason to think they will. Lowry is only 26, so he could improve, but given his average profile the past two years we should expect more of the same this year.

Zito seems to have recovered from a rough start to the year, and should be slightly above average, as he has been the last few years.

But Ortiz? What is the basis for believing that he's made improvement from his last two wretched years? A change in pitching mechanics? That is fodder for a fluff spring training piece, not a legitimate reason to think that someone who's carried an ERA worse than 6 the past two years can now be even average. Even Leo Mazzone couldn't fix him last year. Was he carrying an injury the last few years, and now he's fully healthy? If so, I haven't heard about it. This is a pitcher who pitched about 180 innings the past two years at an ERA of 7.5. He's abominable on the mound.

Here is what I think the Giants can optimistically expect from their rotation in terms of ERAs:

Cain: 2.5
Zito: 3.5
Lowry: 4
Morris: 4.5
Ortiz: 6.5

Zito, Lowry, and Morris are collectively about average, but throw Ortiz in there and the Giants have a huge problem. They will have to replace him, the sooner the better for them. The Giants do have a potential answer here, though, in uber-prospect Tim Lincecum. So, in spite of currently carrying Ortiz, I think the pitching staff could hold up its end of the bargain.

By reputation, the Giants relievers are bad, but bullpens are volatile, so who knows? They have already blown one brilliant Cain start, though. Still, it's not unreasonable to think they could be average, with a bit of Beimel-style luck. ( That is, getting good years from formerly mediocre relievers. )

The real problem for the Giants will be the lineup. Here's a chart showing the usual batting order, with on-base percentages from this year and last.

Position -- 2007 OBP -- 2006 OBP -- Player

CF -- 0.279 -- 0.360 -- Roberts -- Outs?
SS -- 0.250 -- 0.361 -- Vizquel -- Outs?
1B -- 0.357 -- 0.349 -- Aurilia
LF -- 0.466 -- 0.454 -- Bonds
2B -- 0.377 -- 0.360 -- Durham
C -- 0.305 -- 0.319 -- Molina -- OUTS
3B -- 0.255 -- 0.281 -- Feliz -- OUTS
RF -- 0.241 -- 0.324 -- Winn -- OUTS

Last year, when I attended a Dodgers-Giants tilt at Dodger Stadium, I noticed that the on-base percentages they flashed on the scoreboard for the bottom of the Giant batting order was awful. Back then it was Hillenbrand, Eliezer Alfonzo, and Feliz. On the plus side all of them had a bit of power, good for 15-20 homers each, but on the bad side they were out-machines, with on-base percentages hovering around or below 0.300.

Two of these players have moved on, Hillenbrand to Anaheim, Alfonzo to a backup role ( where he is hitless in 11 at-bats ), but nothing has changed with on-base challenged Winn and Molina taking their places in the order. In the parlance used to describe a bad tail-end of a batting order in cricket, the Giants have a long, long, long tail.

The other problem with this lineup is it's so old. Roberts and Vizquel are currently performing far worse than we'd expect, but what if age is finally hitting one or both of these guys? Vizquel especially should improve, but maybe not to 0.360, where the Giants desperately need him. All the Giants have right now to surround Bonds are Aurilia and Durham, and that just won't cut it. One last complication is that while Aurlia left as a shortstop, he returns as a first baseman, meaning that the Giants can't improve their lineup by way of the easiest position to fill on the field. The Giants do have Klesko lurking in a back-up role, with OBP of 0.345 this year and 0.358 last, but his natural position at this point in his career is ... first base.

Essentially, Feliz is the anti-Bonds, with Molina and Winn surrounding him being the anti-Durham and anti-Aurlia. The Giants don't appear to be capable of surrounding Bonds with a lineup of collectively average players. Right now there are too many out-producers. There don't appear to be any solutions on the farm, either. Even if the pitching comes through, including Lincecum and the pen, even if Bonds is great, the offense will let them down.

As far as this upcoming series goes, the Giants are sending out their three worst starters, while the Dodgers send out their three injury-free best. It's always foolish to expect a sweep in baseball, but ... the Dodgers should sweep. They really should. The Giants are getting a little frisky, above .500 again when after a week and a half it seemed they might be buried. I'm sure Giants fans are dreaming of a sweep for the orange and black, which would put the two teams into a virtual tie, but more likely, more right and proper, too, is a Dodger sweep to send the Giants reeling to 6 back.

So ... I expect the Dodgers to hammer Ortiz, and push his ERA back above 6 where it belongs. 6 runs in 2.1 innings against him would do it. ( Though it's probably better to keep his ERA presentable for as long as possible to keep Lincecum from the big club. ) I expect Dodger pitching to hold the bottom four spots in the lineup to less than 10 times on base in the entire series. I expect Barry to be stuck on 6 home runs when he leaves LA. I expect the Dodgers to sweep the Giants.

Penultimate insult to the Giants: as good as the Giant pitching has been, the Dodgers have been better. Here are the team staff comparisons in the big-three fielding-independent pitching stats:

Team -- HR/IP -- BB/IP -- SO/IP
Dodgers -- 0.53 -- 3.30 -- 6.98
Giants -- 0.65 -- 3.82 -- 5.47

And the ultimate insult for the Giants ... the power starved Dodgers have out-homered the Giants 11 to 10 so far this year, even with the 6 put up by Barry. To be fair, the Dodgers have played two games more, but still ... all's fair in love and war and hating the Giants.

23 April 2007

The Comeback Win

The Dodgers' play in the last two games don't inspire thoughts that they are a great team. But they were exciting at the end, and that's inspiring in its own way.

I missed the seventh and eighth innings yesterday, when the Dodgers lost to the Pirates 7-5. But I did see the ninth, and that was a lot of fun. I love watching a team try to erase a deficit in the ninth inning. In a game not involving the Dodgers or any orange clad team I want to see lose, I root for a comeback, extra innings, the sudden reversal. I root for one of those crazy spiky up-and-down win expectancy charts that the guys at the Hardball Times like to post. Who doesn't love a game like that?

If the Dodgers are down, I hope that the game will be one of those magical games, one of those sweet, unexpected victories, sudden joy when the mind had already accepted sad defeat as the outcome. The first step is just to get enough baserunners to get the tying run to the plate. Even if the Dodgers are down 5 I have hope. What's four baserunners? It's nothing ... just a walk, a few lucky bloopers, a solid line drive, maybe an error ... it happens all the time, right? And then, if the tying run comes to the plate, anything can happen on one swing. Even Juan Pierre could hit a home run. Anyone holding a bat at the plate could be Mickey Hatcher or Kirk Gibson. And if it doesn't happen, then that's just part of the price. The price for the comeback win tasting so sweet is that it almost always fails. What are the wages of numerous dashed comeback hopes compared with the glory of the rare comeback victory?

And if the Dodgers are the team protecting the lead, I enjoy watching Saito ( and Gagne before him ) shut down the opposing team and make it seem, after the deeds, as if there was never really any hope of a comeback at all. I will never forget being in Dodger Stadium to see Eric Gagne record a 4 strikeout save against the Red Sox. Those Sox fans in the stands all thought they had a chance, and I just wanted to tell them, you don't have a chance. It's all over ... and it was.

The Dodger have yet to convince me they are a great team. I think having one of Tomko or Hendrikson on the rotation is acceptable, as an "innings-eater" who eats the innings at about a 4.5 era while making spot fifth starts and long relief duty. But not both, especially when we still can't really be sure about Wolf, or maybe even Penny with his low K rate. Furcal will find his true level of play, but then so will Gonzo and Kent, right? Those two extreme veterans may not keep hitting the way they have.

What's nice, though, is that the Dodger have started out as a team that could be a great team. At least it's a possibility, something to realistically talk about and hope for.

In any case, even if the Dodgers have yet to convince me they are a great team, baseball has long ago convinced me that it's a great sport to watch.

21 April 2007

How good are they?

So now the Dodgers are 12-5, good for a 0.705 winning percentage. But how good are the Dodgers really? It’s too early to know, I guess.

Here is a chart showing the distribution of Dodger runs scored and allowed so far. The first column is runs, while the second and third columns are the freqency of the Dodgers scoring and allowing that many runs. The fourth and fifth columns are the percent chance of the Dodgers winning if they score or allow the number of runs in the first column, based on their run distribution to date. ( The ties created in matching up the distributions are counted as half a win, which is why they show a 3% chance of winning when scoring no runs. )

runs -- score freq -- allow freq -- score win% -- allow win%

0 0 1 3% 100%
1 1 6 23% 97%
2 4 1 44% 82%
3 3 1 50% 62%
4 1 4 65% 50%
5 2 0 76% 41%
6 1 1 79% 32%
7 0 3 91% 29%
8 1 0 100% 26%
9 2 0 100% 18%
10 2 0 100% 6%

The Dodgers expected record based on this pattern of run distribution is 11.5 wins and 5.5 losses, or about a 0.675 win percentage.

So if the Dodgers could maintain a runs scored and allowed distribution near this all year, they would be a very good team indeed.

Can they sustain it? On the runs allowed side, the strength is the bullpen. The Dodgers have two studs in Broxton and Saito, and the depth in the organization to replace any back of the pen pitcher who is ineffective, as long as Grady and Ned do the right thing. Their first test in this regard is Seanez.

The starters have been fine so far, rarely blowing up. But Tomko and Hendrikson are both in the rotation now, and while both pitchers can be effective at times, they can also be bad at times ( usually more times ), as we saw last year. I don’t think you can sustain a team ERA of 3 with both in the starting rotation. The Dodgers need Schmidt and Kuo to come back healthy to keep their run prevention at its current elite level.

I think the Dodgers will have more of a problem sustaining the runs scored distribution they have going. They don’t hit many home runs, so they need to follow last year’s model and have no holes in the lineup. That will be hard with Pierre, Gonzo and the question at third base. If they could get a 0.340 on base percentage from all three of these positions, then they should keep scoring at their current high level. LaRoche and Kemp could replace Betemit and Gonzo if they aren't up to the task, but I have less confidence in the Dodgers brain trust when it comes to replacing ineffective offensive players with youngsters. I think it's more likely Kemp bumps Eithier, if there is any movement. And I'm resigned to Pierre at this point, and just hope he can get his average up to at least 0.300, since he doesn't walk or hit home runs.

I think the Dodgers are good, good enough to win the NL West. I'm sure they're not as good as their current record or current runs scored and allowed distributions, but I'd love to be proven wrong. The coming months will tell us more ... and I'd like to see what the Dodgers do when they play the Braves and the Mets.

20 April 2007

Pirates Preview: Good Pitch, No Hit

Here is the regular Pirates lineup over the past week:

OBP -- Pos -- Name

0.355 -- CF -- Duffy
0.328 -- SS -- Wilson
0.324 -- 2B -- Sanchez
0.250 -- 1B -- LaRoche
0.355 -- LF -- Bay
0.333 -- RF -- Nady
0.224 -- C -- Paulino
0.304 -- 3B -- Bautista

This collection of on-base percentages explains why the Pirates have scored only 50 runs in 14 games so far, about 3.5 runs a game. It's very early for meaningful stats, of course. Yet normally you'd expect some OBPs too high, others too low, and others right where you'd expect. The Pirates don't have any of the too-high kind right now, to their early misfortune. Even their co-leader in OBP, Jason Bay, is 40 points below his standard of the past two years. LaRoche is really struggling, and Sanchez has been hampered early by a sprained right knee and sore left wrist. The team OBP is below 0.300.

This isn't a team that will have a lot of high OBPs even when the stats start to normalize, though. Sanchez, in particular, won't likely reach the .378 figure he had last year, since he's very unlikely to reproduce his sky high batting average. He only drew 31 walks last year, so for him it's batting average or bust.

Why is Tracy having Bay bat fifth? For the same reason Tracy played Jason Philips at first base so much at the end of 2005, I guess. Because he's a self-styled managerial genius. Before Sanchez came off the DL, Bay was batting third, and he's seen a bit of cleanup action, and now has been fifth for the past week. It doesn't really matter how the Pirates jumble around this lineup, though. It's pretty bad, and the Dodger pitchers should make quick work of it, with lots of 1-2-3 innings. I expect Wolf and Tomko to turn in 7 or 6 innings with 2 or fewer runs allowed against this team, while Penny should do even better.

Anything can happen, of course. If I was going to predict the just concluded Rockies series, I would have picked exactly the opposite of what did happen in each game. It's sort of foolish to feel confident about what will happen in any one game. That said, I will be very disappointed if the Dodgers don't at least shut down the Pirate offense for at least 2 of the 3 games.

What has saved the Pirates from total disaster so far on their way to a 6-8 record has been their pitching. It's been pretty good. The Dodgers miss Zach Duke ( who has been roughed up early ), instead getting Armas, Gorzelanny, and Snell. Armas was awful in his one start this year, but Gorzelanny and Snell have been great so far, both with sub 2 ERAs in about 20 innings pitched each. Gorzelanny was called up late last year and was good in 11 starts, while Snell was mediocre last year. Snell is just 25, though, and he may be turning a corner in his second full season in the majors, so it may be that the Dodgers are facing two truly good pitchers on Saturday and Sunday, instead of just average pitchers with fortunate early-season stats.

The Dodgers have a better lineup, top to bottom, and they have better relief pitching, and they have a clear starting pitching advantage on Friday. The Dodgers should be kicking themselves if they don't take at least two out of three, and the only thing keeping them from a likely sweep are the Pirates starters on Saturday and Sunday and the wonderfully unpredictable nature of baseball.

18 April 2007

Rockies Preview: Mile High Middle Muddle

Here is the stat line of a hypothetical middle of the order hitter about 60 games into a season:

200 24 59 13 0 5 87 29 33 31

AVG --- OBP --- SLG
0.295 0.397 0.435

It's pretty good. It does seem like the power numbers could be better, though. Maybe these are the numbers of an aging slugger, or someone nursing an injury that saps his power.

In fact these are the combined numbers of the Rockies big four hitters of Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins, and Helton so far in 2007. These are all young players, except for Helton, and none are apparently carrying any injuries. Where has all their power gone?

It's probably just an early fluke, and we should expect the power numbers to come back up. Last year the big four combined for a slugging percentage of 0.536, even including Helton's illness-related dropoff in production. Right now the Rockies are scoring and allowing runs like a 0.500 team, but if the power of the big four returns ( and everything else remains as it is ) they may win 84 games or so.

The Dodgers start a two game set in Denver tonight. I have learned to fear the Rockies big four hitters over the past year, to the point that I am angry with the Dodger pitchers when they let someone not in the big four get on base. As I fan I feel they should feast on the weaker 5 in the lineup for outs and then just try to survive the big 4. I wonder, does any other team have such a difference between their top 4 hitters and the rest of the lineup? Maybe, but like last year, the Rockies look pretty weak outside of the big 4, unless young players such as Tulowitzki and Iannetta break through. They need to replace Matsui and Taveras, though.

Jeff Baker has a 1.031 OPS in 40 major league games, by the way. Maybe the Rockies should get him into the lineup more, eh?

What about the Dodger's current 3 through 6 hitters? How do Nomar, Russ, Gonzo, and Kent compare so far in 2007?

203 35 62 16 0 6 96 35 22 25

AVG --- OBP --- SLG
0.305 0.374 0.473

They make more outs, but have more power. This just shows how surprising the Rockies power drop has been, since one would never expect the Dodgers 3-6 hitters to outslug the Rockies 3-6 hitters. This current state won't last all year, though a Dodger fan can hope. To be sure, this "outslugging" is 1 extra home run, and 3 extra doubles. It really is early.

There is one last important thing about the 3-6 comparisons that is greatly in the Dodgers favor. None of the Rockies 3-6 hitters play a defensive position, an "up-the-middle" position. None. Two of the Dodgers 3-6 hitters play up the middle, at catcher and second base. The Dodgers, then, will have an easier time surrounding their middle of the order hitters with quality. I believe this is a huge advantage for the Dodgers. And this also helps explain why the Rockies have such a hard time surrounding their big four: they have to fill the toughest 4 defensive positions at the same time. The Rockies have no overlap between the middle of the order and the middle of the diamond, and so far they suffer for it. It's not an insurmountable problem, as I suspect there have been plenty of good teams whose 3-6 power hitters didn't play at all up the middle. And maybe the Rockies up-the-middle youngsters will pan out. But it's a handicap.

16 April 2007

Five-Tool Team

The Dodgers flashed all five classic scout’s tools in their 5-1 victory over the Snakes Monday night.

Hitting for Average: The Dodgers batted 0.273 as a team.

Hitting for Power: Nomar cranked a homer to left field.

Throwing: Furcal and Betemit threw bullets to first; Gonzo hit his cutoff-man perfectly and Furcal nailed the runner at the plate.

Fielding: Furcal made a great pick; Ethier had difficult running and diving catches; Kent turned a barehand double-play.

Speed: Um ... Penny and Billingsly had good fastballs. ( Oh, and Pierre had a stolen base, putting him one up in his classic base-stealing duel with Russ Martin. )

Forced Retirement

Last night, Jackie Robinson's number took the field again, as the entire Dodger team wore 42. Both in the number they all wore, and it their play, the Dodger team evoked memories of Jackie Robinson in beating the Padres 9-3. They lashed hits everywhere, were patient at the plate, and stole bases.

Suppose it hadn't been Jackie Robinson night, and there were no festivities before the game, and only one Dodger, say, Russel Martin, was wearing number 42. The memory of Jackie Robinson still would have been evoked, as Martin went 3 for 4, with a steal and a walk. If Vinny had been broadcasting the game, he might have said: there was a number 42 for the Dodgers who used to play like this all the time. I think such a moment, if allowed to happen organically in the course of the season, and not just one one set aside night, would be a thrilling connection of past and present.

I am not saying that Jack Robinson is not worthy of the honor of having his number retired; instead I am ask why it is an honor at all? Where is the honor in seeing your number put out of action forever, hung on a wall? It might be true that no one could ever live up to number 42, but isn't it human nature to still try? After all, the players on other teams who used to wear 42 often did it to expressly honor Jackie, not to dishonor him. They did not do it to say they were as good as him, but to say that they aspired to be as good as him, on and off the field. I think it would be great to see, for example, Mike Cameron continue to wear 42.

I know that numbers will continue to be retired, presumably until all the one and two digit numbers are used up. It doesn't bother me too much, I guess; I just wonder what could be. What if we thought of each number not as belonging to a certain player, but as a heading under which new legends were continuously being written?

What if the following Dodger numbers, instead of being retired, had been later worn by another Dodger player? What new legends would be attached to each number?

Duke Snider --- 4 --- Shawn Green

The elegant swing of outfielder Shawn Green evokes memories of the elegant swing of oufielder Duke Snider. Number 4 has held the Dodger single season record for homeruns in two different cities.

Sandy Koufax --- 32 --- Eric Gagne

Batters never had a chance with Dodger number 32 on the mound. During his Dodger heyday, when Gagne took the mound in the ninth inning, the artistry and dominance of Koufax lived again.

Roy Campanella --- 39 --- Mike Piazza

In '95, '96, and '97, Mike Piazza recreated the offensive magic of Campy's '51, '53, and '55 campaigns. Few catchers before, since, or in between have produced such prodigious offensive numbers. Number 39 turned a usually offensively weak position into an offensive powerhouse.

Jackie Robinson --- 42 --- Kirk Gibson

In the fiery Kirk Gibson are echoes of Jackie Robinson's on field excellence. Each is a rare combination of speed, power, discipline and defensive skill. No, Gibson can't possibly compare to Robinson's bravery in integrating baseball. No one can. But Jackie's on field greatness should not be forgotten --- who better to evoke the moxie of stealing home plate than the man who scored from second base on a wild pitch? And there would be this: Number 42, responsible for the two greatest moments in Dodger history.

Don Drysdale --- 53 --- Orel Hersheiser

An impossible record is broken twice by Dodger number 53.

These are all fanciful pairings, obviously. Even if these numbers were not retired, these pairings probably would not have happened. It's impossible to have the foresight to determine which players are most worthy of receiving the numbers of retired legends. Sometimes a mediocre player would get the a legend's number. But I think that would be okay too. Even mediocre players can have moments of greatness. If, horrifyingly, Kevin Gross has worn 32, he still would have evoked Koufax for one day.

I enjoy seeing treasured Dodger numbers live on, seeing new Dodger legends written alongside the old under the same numerical header. In my youth, my favorite Dodger was Orel Hersheiser; now, it is Russel Martin. Number 55, Los Angeles Dodgers. May 55 play on forever.

14 April 2007

Observer’s Notes --- Friday, 13 April 2007

It was really cool to be at the stadium to see Rafael Furcal’s first game back from injury, and cheering for him when he was announced. We were at Dodger Stadium to see Izturis’s first game back from injury last year, but Furcal is in a completely different class of shortstop.

Rafael Furcal took a lot of pitches, including many strikes. It may have cost him some outs in a few plate appearances, but twice when he did swing the result was a gap double. Juan Pierre, meanwhile, let almost no pitches go by, opting instead for contact almost every time. Once he almost got a lucky squib single, but it was caught, and on the night he ended up with nothing to show for his resolve to let no possible strike go by him.

My visit to the concession stand cost $38.25 for food and drink for myself and my wife. In change I received a dollar bill, a quarter, and half dollar. Is giving out uncommon coins in change part of the concessionaires’ efforts to speed up service? I hope I get a two-dollar bill and an Eisenhower dollar next time.

The Coke sponsored trivia question asked who the first recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award was. I was disappointed they didn’t ask the question by giving the full name of the award, the “Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award”. But I guess it wasn’t called that back when he won the first one.

There was a group of Padres fans sitting in front of us. They were not too happy with the game. In addition to the lopsided score in favor of the Dodgers, there was a jerk heckling them from somewhere behind us. At one point, when Wells had just been chased from the game, one of the Padres fans, in a moment of good humour and mock surrender, took off his Padres hat and put on the giveaway Dodger hat that every fan in attendance received. In the end, though, his loyalty to the Friars was true. When he left the game, his giveaway Dodger was on the ground underneath his seat.

The cartoon automobile race was as pointless as ever. On this night it was trucks, and the blue one won. They need to introduce a villian into the race, some real excitement. Give the fans something to engage their emotions, instead of the equivalent of a three-way coin flip. I think that in the middle of the race, an orange Hummer should appear out of nowhere and start running all the trucks off the road, ending with the blue truck. Then the Hummer stops, and a closeup of the license plate reveals the word “JUICE”. Then the driver’s door open, and Barry Bonds steps out, flexing his muscles. And that’s the end. We’d all have fun booing that.

Postscript: Posting this in the middle of the Saturday game, with the Dodgers currently trailing 6-0 in the second inning. I'm sure glad we didn't pick that one to attend. It's a real crapshoot, what kind of game you get.


The enlightened leader has a vision for the future that will make society a better place. The usual chaos of human interaction and free will shall be replaced by an ordered system of centralized decisions. ( Bees create the most successful utopian societies. ) New revenue must be brought in to create the new order; an army of people is needed to direct everyone into this order.

The Dodgers are trying to create a parking utopia. Someone saw how the cars seem to randomly fill the lots, and flit around without any apparent order. Someone did not like this, and thought that there must be a better way.

People chafe under control. Organically developed patterns of behavior that allowed people to cope are no longer allowed. The loss of freedom is galling.

But it’s just parking. We can all get over some loss of freedom in parking if it works, right? The problem with a parking utopia, with any utopia, is that if the centralized plan fails, there is no backup. If everything does not go according to the abstract plan, then what? In the real world, things will break down in ways that the plan designers never anticipated, and if people are not allowed to cope with these breakdowns on their own, to organically find solutions, then it will be a disaster.

My wife and I attended last night’s game. We arrived at the ballpark at 6:20, more than an hour earlier than Derek Lowe’s first pitch on this Friday night. At this relatively early time things were not yet hectic, but I could see that there could be trouble as game time neared and there were more cars to deal with.

I could see the plan, and it does seem reasonable. Direct each car to the lot closest to it, and fill up that lot systematically. Slowdowns occur when two cars want to each occupy the same bit of road, such as at an intersection. The goal of this plan seems to be to eliminate as much of this automotive interaction as possible, and thus eliminate the slowness. I can imagine the planners drawing up one slide of the old way, with a bunch of lines representing car routes all crossed and snarled, and one slide of the new way, with a lot of parallel lines, swirling in directly to their spots without ever crossing each other.

We came in on the left side of the Golden State entrance, and so we were directed to lot 4. The parking attendants were filling this lot up starting with rows closest to the stadium and going out. They waved us around with glowsticks and in general made an ad hoc human road.

The big problem with this was that since all cars were sent along one route, and since all people who were getting out of cars were originating from rougly one spot, there was a constant bottleneck where the stream of cars going to the designated spots intersected the stream of people walking to the stadium. Normally this car-human interaction would be spread out over the parking lot, but now it was concentrated, and a real problem. If the volume of cars had been higher, we would have all been backed up, because there would have been no other way we would be allowed to go.

However, at the time I was there, parking was rather easy. And it was almost easier after the game to get out, as easy as it’s ever been for me. We left after the last pitch, and it took maybe three minutes of manuevering and waiting for other cars before we were out, through the gates. I am at a loss to explain this. I didn’t see any parking attendants directing cars to make things smoother. In fact I think this would have made things worse, at least in our lot. I think what made the biggest difference was that none of the openings from lot four to the access road were shut off, and no one from any outlying lots was coming over to add to the traffic on our side. Lot 4 may also be one of the easier lots to get out of, just based on its orientation of long axis along the access road, allowing for many exit points.

I think the Dodger parking utopia does have a chance to work if the number of cars is managable. There were 49000 announced at this game, and from my observation parking was okay. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be much value for the extra money we have to pay to park, and that if things go wrong it will quickly turn into a full-scale parking dystopia.

13 April 2007


Today, for the first time this season, I journey to Dodger Stadium. I look forward to these trips more than almost anything, even though I have at least a two hour drive both ways, with the possibility for traffic and hassle in Los Angeles and around the stadium. Dodger stadium is sanctuary. When I am there, it feels like my favorite place on earth.

Being at Dodger Stadium is worth all of this time spent on the journey. It's worth coming in to work an hour early, so I can get off an hour early, so I can spend two and a half hours in the car. It's worth getting home at 1 AM. I don't begrudge this late hour. That's what makes this journey a pilgrimage. Losses seen at the stadium sting less than losses viewed on television, and wins are sweeter, and shared with everyone else there. It's worth it.

Every game a fan watches or listens to is at the least a very small pilgrimage. Games are long. They are their own small journeys, three hours long, sometimes less, often more. They take up time that could be spent, perhaps better spent, doing other things. Attention can be divided, but as long as the game is on, part of every fan is with the game, on that journey.

Each game the Dodgers play is a potential sanctuary. The potential for sanctuary is not solely proportionate to how well the teams plays, whether they win or lose. It also depends on the attitude a viewer of the game brings to the game. And, significantly, it depends on the atmosphere created by the Dodger organization. It depends on how they present the game to us, either at the stadium or over the air.

The two greatest assets the Dodgers have are Vin Scully and Dodger Stadium. They are coplementary assests; they rarely overlap, unless someone has brought a radio into Dodger Stadium. What they share is a genuine, understated class. Both are poetry, presented as modest prose.

Neither will be around forever. In the case of the greatest Dodger treasure, Vin Scully, this is just the way of life. But at least, when he is no longer announcing games, Dodger Stadium will still be there. This is the truth the makes Vinny's eventual retirement bearable. The sanctuary of Dodger Stadium is potentially forever, right?

But I realize that it isn't. Even if forever is conservatively set equal to 100 years, Dodger Stadium probably won't be there at the end of forever. Things change, new generations come in. What was precious to us isn't necessarily precious to them. Anyway, buildings get old. They change.

Dodger stadium has changed a lot since 1983, when at the age of eight, I attended my first game. More advertising, more distractions, more modern noise. I think most of the changes have been for the worse. But it is still Dodger Stadium, sanctuary, the best place on earth. I just hope the Dodger organization will keep it this way for as long as possible. I want to keep making my pilgrimage.

12 April 2007

Look at me ... I can be ... Centerfield

Jaun Pierre looks like he's bursting out of his shoes trying to play the game. It's clear as can be to anyone who watches him. He wants to do, to make things happen. Managers and General managers see it. Fellow players and many fans can also see it.

What else do they see?

Do they see the low on-base percentages, declining in recent years? Do they see all the outs he makes while trying to slap the ball for a single, while trying to steal another base, while trying to advance a runner, while trying to do?

Failure is assured if one does not try, according to proverb. But sometimes failure is the direct result of trying. Sometimes success becomes more likely when trying is postponed. There is an art to knowing when to try. Not every pitch should be swung at, not every base stolen. Trying, by itself, is not a virtue.

It's fun to watch Juan Pierre tear around the bases. He's fast. It's uplifting to watch him come up to the batters box, already overmatched in his oversized batting helmet, yet determined to slap the ball somewhere for a hit. Look at me, he seems to be saying ... I can hit a line drive somewhere. I can. At the very least he will hit the ball. He will not strike out. I'm sure he wants to hit line drives, but if he slaps the ball over the infielders' gloves and it drops, or if he hits the ball so weakly that he can beat out the throw with his scorching speed, then I'm sure he's okay with that too.

Last night he had a base hit that was purely a consequence of making contact, when in the bottom of the third inning he reached and made sure to make contact with the ball, causing it to squib over the shortstop into shallow left field. The nature of the hit was the nature of Pierre ... trying, and somehow, landing in that elusive ground of success. And then he had another essential Pierre moment, when he and unofficial Dodger captain Russ Martin stole second and third, as well as pitcher Jason Hirsh's metaphorical pants. It was a product of hard work, from his tape study of Hirsh, and of moxie, from his own drive to do.

This sequence was key to the Dodger win, right? The writer of MLB's wrap placed it in the lead, certainly. Pierre, along with others, did help the Dodgers score three runs. How often will three runs be enough to win a game? Pierre went out in his other three plate appearances, so he didn't do anything that might have helped the Dodgers score more runs. Penny, Broxton, and Saito were probably more important to this win than Pierre was. They didn't try harder than Pierre, though, and they certainly weren't as memorable as him. I will long remember the look on poor Hirsh's face, the catcher's frantic gestures, and Pierre's cheeky success in pilfering third without a throw while the pitcher obliviously held on to the ball.

Pierre has made a lot of outs already this year. In doing so often, slapping at so many balls, making such paltry contact, he is using up the Dodgers fixed allotment of outs, and preventing other Dodgers from succeeding as much as they might otherwise. This is also part of the essential Pierre. That is the dark side of Pierre's great moxie.

Trying as hard as you can isn't always the best thing. Sometimes a batter should take the pitch, even if there is a chance he might fall behind in the count or strike out if the pitch suddenly breaks into the zone. Sometimes a runner should refrain from trying to steal a base, and instead let the batter try to advance him instead. Sometimes a GM should stick with the roster he has, and let the players with potential try to live up to it.

Pierre does take some pitches, and he doesn't always try to steal. He is fun to watch, at least for me. His successes are great to watch. It's just too bad he fails so often.