12 June 2007

Recall Roll Call

by Joshua Worley

I'm amazed and delighted that Kemp and Loney were both recalled to the Dodgers this month. I don't take a strictly rational approach to this. Practical questions of playing time or major league readiness don't influence my initial reaction to these call-ups. The likely performances of Kemp and Loney are better in the imagination than they ever will in the field.

It's the potential that I'm hooked on. The unknown. Kemp's going to hit a home run every 12 at bats and Loney's going to bat 0.350. Sure they will. I know they won't, but deep down I don't, because I still get irrationally excited when I see them bat. The reality of their true talent levels hasn't yet hardened inside of me, dampening my expectations, because they've been absent. I haven't seen them play, and so they I'm free to imagine how they would play. Oh, there are minor league stats that might contradict my imaginings, but I'm not seeing any of that for myself. It's just numbers on a page, not real. I can see Pierre popping up or weakly grounding every pitch he can reach. I can see Nomar struggling to reach the warning track with his fly balls. Those players have been revealed to me, and there's no room to imagine them playing much better. I want known mediocrity replaced with unknown potential. Loney! The Bison! There is, at this moment, no limit to how good they could be. I haven't learned better yet.

Reality. There is a limit on how good Kemp and Loney could be, and we will learn this over the next year or so. Much of it can already be learned by looking at how they performed in the minor leagues. It isn't fair to say that they will be better than Pierre and Nomar. However, as bad as those two vets have been, I think it is fair to say the youngsters almost certainly won't be worse, and they could be better. I think it's likely they will be better. I believe it does make sense to steal playing time from those particular vets and give it to the kids.

More Reality. How much playing time will Kemp and Loney steal? That is what it is, a theft. Pierre and Nomar must feel this playing time is theirs by right and contract. I think most veteran players feel this way. I think, more importantly, management feels this way. The entire baseball establishment has been conditioned to feel this way. Even as Grady Little and Ned Colletti prepare to give Kemp and Loney more playing time, they must be feeling the pressure of tradition and propriety to let Nomar and Pierre play as much as they are accustomed to playing, to give them as long as possible to break out of their supposed slumps. Propriety! It is improper to just take away a man's customary job and give it to an untested stripling. There are powerful emotions associated with the principle of tenure in many walks of life. But in baseball, there is an opposite pressure on management that may often trump the pressure of tenure. It is the pressure to win, and it is why Kemp and Loney are on the Dodgers now.

James Anthony Loney

age: 23
bats: left

MLB: 2 games, 2-8, double, no walks
AAA: 0.279 -- 0.345 -- 0.382

Loney hit 0.380 last year at AAA. Why the sudden decline this year? Was it just disappointment at being left down at AAA? Was he pressing to play even better?

In 2006, Loney in AAA had a line drive rate of 25% on all balls in play, and struck out in 9% of his at bats. In 2007, Loney in AAA declined to a 21% line drive rate and struck out in 20% of his at bats. That's a huge jump in his strikeouts. Maybe he was pressing. In my opinion it's the most likely explanation. His natural talent ( and some luck ) that he displayed weren't good enough to earn him a job in 2007, so he strove to do more than he could in his second tour of AAA, and the strikeouts were the result.

How much will Loney play? He might play a little bit in the outfield, but it's already rather crowded out there, especially if Pierre still gets the bulk of time in center and Kemp is forced to battle Ethier for left field. I can't imagine Loney playing left field more than once a week.

So most of his playing time will have to come at the expense of Nomar. Nomar has already sat two games in a row, and it might become three tonight. So there clearly is a willingness to bench Nomar for extended periods, though it's going to get harder and Nomar will likely complain about it more as the weeks go on. It's one thing to give him an extended rest after two solid months of him starting, but to keep benching him for several days a week will invite trouble and controversy.

Loney needs to play at least half the time. Really it should be at least two thirds of the time, but that will likely be impossible, at least at first. But I don't think management would have recalled Loney if they didn't intend to give him regular playing time. I'm going to say he'll get it. He'll start at least half of the team's games over the next month. And if Nomar complains, he can ask for a trade. This is the reason his no-trade clause doesn't matter. If you want to make Loney the starting first baseman, then you just do it. Unless Nomar is willing to accept a backup role, then his no-trade clause will magically disappear. The error would be in thinking that Nomar has to be traded before Loney can become the regular first baseman. Now Loney is not yet the regular first baseman, but things are heading in that direction. From here performance will tell the tale.

Matthew Ryan Kemp

age: 22
bats: right

MLB: 9 games -- 0.381 -- 0.391 -- 0.429
AAA: 0.329 -- 0.374 -- 0.540

How often will Kemp play center and steal Juan Pierre's playing time? Not as much as Loney steals Nomar's playing time, I imagine.

Kemp too needs to play at the very least half the time. So far he's only played in 1 of 4 games, though I'm guessing he'll get the start tonight and tomorrow night. I don't think management is convinced he can play center field regularly. But with Brady Clark gone, he will have to play center field when Pierre is not in there, unless Ethier is tabbed instead.

Luis Gonzalez is playing rather well, so he shouldn't get more than a game every two weeks off. Pierre seems entrenched in center by default, so it seems that Kemp and Ethier will battle for playing time, with Loney in the mix occasionally as well. Ethier figures to be the odd man out here, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world at this point. He's just not getting it done right now. But I hope Kemp will also see some starts in center as well.

Etanislao Toni Abreu

age: 22
bats: switch

MLB: 19 games -- 0.262 -- 0.279 -- 0.400
AAA: 0.347 -- 0.397 -- 0.503

Abreu is beginning to show his unreadiness. He is no longer quite as exciting and unknown. His limitations are becoming defined.

Back when LaRoche was demoted, I asked what would happen when the hits stopped coming, when the walk-challenged Abreu had a 1-12 stretch. Would he still get on base 4 times as LaRoche could? In his last three games, Abreu is 1-13, with no walks. Abreu is no LaRoche.

Abreu has 9 doubles. I've seen his whack the ball all around the field plenty of times. Just not often enough. It doesn't seem that he's ready yet. It's a shame, because he's being given as much playing time as he wants. Maybe that's the problem. When a young player isn't ready, playing time eventually turns into a curse.

I hope playing time isn't a curse for Loney and Kemp.

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