22 May 2007

The Dodgerama Prescription for Fixing the Dodgers

by Joshua Worley

After Monday's 9-5 loss to the Brewers, the Dodgers are now on a four game losing streak, which feels like the end of the world. Changes are needed, right now! Managers need to be fired! Players need to be benched! Trade rumors need to be started!

No, none of this needs to happen because of four games. Four games is a mere 2.5 percent of the season. That's nothing. Nothing worth panicking over. The proper response to a four game losing streak is to wake up on a new day, forget about all the frustration, and win the next game.

However, let's look at the entire season so far, in which the Dodgers have a record of 25-20. That's not a record worth panicking over, though it's nothing great either. These 45 games are 27.8 percent of the season, more than a quarter of the games. I think that's a significant part of the season. If we look at how certain players have performed during this quarter season, in conjunction with how they've performed in previous seasons and their potential for future success, we do have reason for concern, dismay, or even measured panic.

Below I list the players that fall into each of these categories of concern, dismay, and measured panic. "Measured Panic" players are obvious duds, players who need to replaced yesterday. "Dismay" players are sneaky duds, whose need to either improve or be replaced in the next few months. "Concern" players are ones to have an eye on, whose performance may fall off, but for whom replacement wouldn't yet yield much overall improvement.

Measured Panic

Brett Tomko

He falls behind in the count, then gives up and throws a pitch that is easily clobbered. Last week I backed off from calling his performance cowardly, but now that feels about right. I don't think it's unfair to call someone out for throwing what amount to give-up pitches. Tomko gave up two home runs, but it was a few foul feet from being three. He was charged with 5 runs last night, but he was worse than that. His ERA is now above 6. His last two starts have been brutal, burying the Dodgers twice in 8-0 holes at home, ruining the game for two Monday night home crowds. ( Once with some help from Billingsley, alas. )

What's the prognosis for Tomko being booted from the rotation? I think it's pretty good. He's already been swapped with Lowe to keep him from pitching sooner. Management has to see how awful he's been. In spite of some bumpy relief appearances, Billingsley is ready to be a starter again. He surely won't do any worse than Tomko, and his upside is so much better. I think, or perhaps just hope, that there is a good chance Tomko is gone from the rotation by the end of this month.

Juan Pierre

His line on the season is 0.271 -- 0.302 -- 0.307. Back at the start of May I said I would give him a fresh chance, voiding April. Fair enough: his May line is 0.280 -- 0.308 -- 0.307. Jon Weisman already excellently written most of what there is to say about the Pierre situation, actually, so I need not go on much about this sad subject.

I'll just say this: the way management handles the Pierre situation, more than anything, will determine what I think of their overall competence. The mistake has been made. Will they pretend it hasn't been made, pretend that everything is okay as long as Pierre gets close to his 200 singles and 60 stolen bases? Or will they own up to the mistake and do something? There is a solution sitting right there in AAA in Matt Kemp. It won't cost them but a pittance to bring him up and end the Pierre fiasco. Will they do the right thing? I'm almost certain they won't.


Nomar Garciaparra

He's a lot like Pierre these days, in that so much of his batting value is tied up in his batting average. His power is mostly gone, and he doesn't walk enough to turn a sub-0.300 batting average into a plus-0.350 on-base percentage. With his BA now at 0.288, his OPS has dipped below 0.700. That's just awful for a first baseman. He might improve, which is why he's only in the dismay category. But he has a long way to go to get to respectability. Nomar, you're really hurting the team right now.

Again, the upgrade is free, and will cost the Dodgers no players, almost no money. James Loney is there in AAA, ready to take over at first base. It will only cost them the discomfort of benching a highly paid player, the discomfort of admitting a mistake.

Mark Hendrickson

How soon until his ERA climbs back to 5? Three more starts, three more Dodgers losses, maybe?

I sure hope the Dodgers don't lose Hendrickson's next three starts. They may not, since he does tend to barely keep the team in the game if they're willing to score a lot of runs. He doesn't just give up and serve homer balls the way Tomko does.

The upgrade here is the returned health and effectiveness of either Kuo or Schmidt. I know that Schmidt will bump either Hendrickson or Tomko when he's healthy again, and I suspect Kuo will get his chance too. I think management is much more likely to do the right thing when it comes to pitching than hitting.

Andre Ethier

This is a tough one, but he's just not getting it done yet, with a line of 0.276 -- 0.322 -- 0.410. That's not acceptable from a corner outfielder. There was always a chance the Dodgers were getting a cat in a bag when they traded for him; his minor leauge track record wasn't that great, or terribly consistent. Milton Bradley is surely the greater talent in the deal that brought Ethier to LA, though Ethier is the far more durable of the two.

If there was a good trade that could bring in a 0.850 OPS right fielder, I would say the Dodgers should take it in an instant. Ethier should not be considered unbenchable or untouchable. But I don't think such a trade will happen. He may improve if he keeps playing; he certainly did much better for a lot of last year. Management might bring up Kemp to compete for the right field job, but this would be so frustratingly obtuse in the sense that Pierre clearly needs replacing far more than Ethier does.


Wilson Betemit and Andy LaRoche

The cumulative stats of the Dodger third-basemen aren't very good right now, though they aren't awful, either. If they both didn't hit for the next two months, then it might be time to think about an upgrade. But such an upgrade would likely come at a high price and not make sense over the long term. I believe one of the two will come around and give the Dodgers decent production out of third base.

I mention the third base situation more to say that it isn't worthy of panic or sudden moves than to say something needs to be done. I want too see LaRoche and Betemit keep playing.

Luis Gonzalez

His OPS is 0.787 right now; that's about as much as we could have expected, right? The reason for concern is that he might tail off from this, and become a real liablity out there. But for now there wouldn't be much to gain from replacing him in the lineup. The sad truth is that he's been the Dodgers best outfielder so far.

Rudy Seanez

His stats this year are fine, after some trouble early in the year. But he's a good bet to regress, and when he does it should be easy to replace him with a better AAA pitcher. I could say the same about Joe Beimel, but he's the only lefty in the 'pen besides Kuo ( who doesn't really count for 'pen purposes ) and I think we're pretty much stuck with him.

All of the above can be summarized in a one sentence prescription for fixing the Dodgers. It is a simple, fair, cost-effective and intuitive principle that management so far seems incapable of grasping or following.

Don't give higher paid veterans any preferential treatment in the battle for playing time.

Update: Dodgerthoughts almost simultaneously put up a post with the nearly the same conclusion as this one: Play the kids.

Update-update: On this same theme, a very good argument for Billingsley instead of Tomko in the rotation is made at True Blue LA.

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