03 May 2007

May Renewal

The Dodgers had become stale by the end of April, as if they were a bag of chips left open too long. The team strength of pitching had failed them in the last 9 games of April, as they never allowed fewer than 3 runs during those games. The burden of winning was placed on the offense, which was only good enough to take 3 of the 9.

Everything has changed with the new month. The Dodgers have allowed a mere one run in each of their first two games of May. The team has zest again, at least in my perception. The Dodgers in May are a freshly opened bag of chips. I extend this strained analogy because mentally, as a fan, I want a fresh restart. Even though the Dodgers were 15-11 in April, the end of the month was rough, capped by the disaster of April 30 that I saw in person. The end of April sapped my faith in the team. The last nine games of April seemed to confirm those nagging whispers that the Dodgers weren't really very good, that they were getting some unsustainably good pitching performances, that the offense was fueled by lucky clutch hitting. Those concerns are still there, to be sure: Penny has a sub-2 ERA with more walks than strikeouts, while the Dodgers are hitting 0.274 with runners in scoring position, 0.259 overall. But for now, I've resolved to not worry about these things. The Dodgers are a good team, a team with average offense and very good, perhaps great pitching. Good teams are meant to be enjoyed; being optimistic about a good team's future is not a vice.

With May also comes a fresh restart for Juan Pierre. After attending the miserable April 30 game, in which Pierre was putrid at the plate and in the field, I was ready to turn on him completely. But I've decided to give him another chance. I'll never be happy with the contract he was given, but maybe I can be occasionally happy that he is a Dodger. He's already had one awkward fielding play in the first game of this month, but he is 3-7 so far in May, with a crucial RBI in the most recent game. I'm rooting for you again, Juan. It's a good restart; keep it up.

As recently as a week ago I still thought of Hendrickson as an unworthy starter. I planned on writing about a Tomko v Hendrickson battle for the fifth starter spot among possible future Dodger pitcher battles, though in truth I wanted Kuo and Billingsly to bump both of them. Sometime during yesterday's game, as he kept piling up strikeouts and scoreless innings, I realized he deserved better than this, at least for now. Hendrickson's incredible start to the season finally sunk in. If Pierre's April is to be burned and forgotten, Hendrickson's should be framed and displayed proudly. He's earned a spot in the starting rotation, at least for the next month or so. Pierre is getting his chance at a turnaround now, while Hendrickson has already seized his chance at one brilliantly. Isn't this part of the greatness of baseball, the chance to turn things around?

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts wrote in depth about Hendrickson's turnaround; he salutes him for what he's accomplished while remaining skeptical that he can really be this good. And I agree with that. But I'm going to put my skepticism to the side, for Hendrickson, for Pierre, for everyone on the Dodgers. I will hope for a May just like his April from Hendrickson while at the same time hoping for a May completely unlike his April from Pierre. They're both off to good early starts on that hope, as unlikely as it is that they fulfill it. Yet even unlikely things may happen: that's the great thing about May, and baseball.


Charlie said...

There are two words upon which the Dodgers need to reflect long and hard regarding Mark Hendrickson: "sell" and "high."

We all know he is going to regress (nobody is as good as he's been so far). The only question is how far is he going to regress. Will it be to the 3.50-4.00 ERA range where he would be a solid #3 starter for a contender? Or will it be back to his career norm, 5.00, making him a tolerable but discardable #5? I'm guessing the latter, because whatever he's doing, the league will adjust. It happens all the time.

So, most teams wouldn't give you much for him. But he's durable and relatively cheap. The Dodgers need power hitting and outfield defense and maybe a third baseman. Let's make something happen. The Dodgers have a lot of pitching and could cover Hendrickson's loss.

Over at True Blue LA, Andrew has pointed out before that Ned has never really sold high on anybody. Maybe he doesn't get the concept. Maybe Wilson Betemit will go to Oakland for a bag of sunflower seeds.

But I say deal Hendrickson before it turns midnight...

Faramond said...

It's true, Ned buys high and sells low instead of selling high and buying low. All his trades with the D-Rays last year are perfect examples of this.

The attitude I expressed in this latest entry is not one I want the Dodgers GM to take. It's a fan's attitude, almost a psycholgical ploy, a way of dealing with the ups and downs of the season.

I fear Colletti does take this sort of attitude of being too optimistic about what a player will do. If he's going bad, he'll turn it around, if he's going good, he'll keep up the inflated performance.

You say the Dodgers could cover Hendrickson's loss ... before the season I would have thought they would rejoice at his loss. I'd like to give him at least another month before concluding he'll go all the way back to a 5.00 ERA, though. That said, the best thing to happen probably would be to trade him, but I doubt that will happen, and I don't think they'd get all that much for him yet.

Griffon64 said...

I just can't get excited about Juan Pierre, sorry :-P

Every time I start to think "At least his contract is short" like I've thought about some of Ned's other acquisitions, my brain screams "FIVE YEARS!!!!" back at me.

Anything bad Hendrickson could do seems to just pale by comparison!

The Dodgers were very disappointing during their 4-streak loss. To the Pirates and the Giants! Come on!

In truth they did run into the maw of the Giants' winning streak. Then it looked like they might be shredded by the Diamondbacks' streak too, but fortunately the team would have none of that. After mailing in their performance against the D-backs on Monday, they came back with a couple of good performances. I liked the feel I got from them as I watched them play. They seemed in control and planning to win. Of course, that is just a fan's fancy, again, but I did enjoy those two games.

The Dodgers, like any team, has downside. Pierre and quite possibly Hendrickson, as well as Schmidt's bum shoulder, Betemit's inconsistency, Billingsley's frightening peripherals and the inability of anybody to hit for more than one base are all possible downsides.

On the other hand though, like most teams, they do have upside. The bullpen, Furcal's strong arm, Kent's injury-free start to the season, Ethier's fine arm, and of course, the Big One, Russell Martin.

As a fan it is easy to get bogged down in the pure angst of rooting for a team all season long. We don't have any control over this passtime that take up so many of our hours and cause us so much enjoyment and so much annoyance. We fret when things go well, figuring the good times can't last, and we agonize when things go badly, pointing out how we saw this or that implosion of a player coming from a mile away and why didn't the front office *do* anything about it?

Pity the poor players too, for many a good stretch of performance is quantified with the "He will regress" tag and bad performances bring in the rap.

With all that said though, isn't it a grand occupation of the summer evenings?

Joshua Worley said...

Before I address the latest comment, I want to make sure anyone reading this knows that Griffon64 is my wife!

Now, to address the comment ... I didn't say that I was excited about Juan Pierre ... only that in the spirit of renewal I will give him another chance. Pretend April didn't happen for him. I guess he doesn't deserve it, but I suppose I'm feeling generous after two old fashioned 2-1 victories. To keep my sanity, I prefer not to think about his contract.

quote: "Pity the poor players too, for many a good stretch of performance is quantified with the "He will regress" tag"

As realistic as applying that tag may be, sometimes it's self-defeating. Regardless of what Hendrickson will be in the future, I'd like to savor what he has shockingly been so far.