26 September 2007

The Kemp Rumor

Foxsports.com is currently "reporting" a rumor that the Dodgers are considering a trade offer of Johan Santana for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

I don't know if getting back Johan Santana could make losing Matt Kemp any easier. I just don't know. Santana is the best out there. Yes, this season he's been mortal, not quite his usual dominating self. It appears to me this is mostly because he's allowing about 50% more home runs than usual. If this year's home run rate is merely some bad luck, then he's still the best. His strikeout rate is still above a batter per inning.

Santana is the best. Santana is the best. That's what I have to keep telling myself if the Dodgers trade Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw away for him. At least this rumour isn't one of those insulting rumours, such as Betemit for Proctor. Yeah, I know that one happened. It was still a horribly insulting rumour to read. At least this time the Dodgers are getting something good in return. Something really good. They're getting the best player in the rumored deal, really.

But then I'm stopped short. The best player, right now. Who knows what the future holds? Baseball is an uncertain sport, especially for prospect pitchers. If Kershaw gets injured he'll go down the Kerry Wood and Mark Prior path, or worse. But if not, there's a very good chance he's headed down the Johan Santana path. Except he's younger, and cheaper, and as an added bonus, more electric and exciting for the fans, because he's new. Wouldn't Kershaw starting a Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers be so much more special and meaningful than Santana finishing his career with the Dodgers?

But do I assume too much? For Santana to do anything like finish his career with the Dodgers he'd have to agree to a contract extension. Will he do that? Would Colletti make the deal even if Santana refused to sign an extension? I'm already ambivalent about this trade if Santana is with the Dodgers long-term --- if he's only with the Dodgers for one year, it's a horrible, awful trade.

Then I realize that emotionally, this would be a horrible trade no matter what happens with Santana's contract or Kershaw's career. I don't want to lose Kemp. He's so talented, so fun to watch. Already so productive. How good might he be next year? Two years from now? What about when he's 27? I don't understand why he's held to a higher standard than a 39-year-old player. No one seems to care if the 39-year-old player makes lots of baserunning blunders, or is bad defensively. But when Kemp dares to do it, he's a bum. Shouldn't the older player be held to a higher standard, both in terms of his play and his attitude? But that's not the way it works, and now Kemp is apparently being shopped around, and I'm seriously thinking of chucking the whole Dodger fan thing.

But maybe he's not really being shopped around. Maybe there's nothing to the rumors. Maybe Colletti and McCourt aren't swayed in the least bit by Plaschke's absurd and mean-spirited attack piece on Matt Kemp. Maybe, maybe. A few days ago I was confident that Dodger management truly understood how valuable cheap young players were. I'm much less confident now. I fear Kemp is a goner, and I feel about this the way I felt during those awful few days when Piazza was rumored to be on his way out.


There might be a cure for this sick feeling, though. Johan Santana. Johan Alexander Santana. Supernatural. He's the best.

Don't the Dodgers dare settle for anything less if they trade the away Matt Kemp.

24 September 2007

The Kent Vent

I guess the only way I really care about Jeff Kent's youth vent is if it somehow changes the Dodger strategy for the future. And it won't. In a LA Times column Bill Plaschke came out and said that the youth movement failed this year, and one theory of Dodger management is this is the sort of press opinion that might influence future decisions by McCourt or Colletti. The best example of this type of possible press influence is the firing of Paul DePodesta, but even there we don't really know how much influence all the press criticism of DePodesta really had on Frank McCourt. And in this case, Plaschke didn't even say that the Dodgers should abandon the youth movement: he said it failed this year, and he even laid part of the blame on the veterans. Finally, even if what Plaschke wrote and what Kent said do have some influence on how Colletti and McCourt think about the Dodger future, I believe money and obvious talent will end up as far more important influences on Dodger management decisions. The young players are as a group visibly better, and certainly cheaper. If Colletti was the sort to not value the talent of the youngsters properly, he would have traded more of them so far.

Will Jeff Kent be back with the Dodgers? I certainly hope so. I think he has a good season left in him, and of all the young players we've seen at the big league level for the Dodgers so far the heir apparent at second base Tony Abreu has impressed me the least. This is not to say I want Abreu traded for a bag of beans, or that I don't want to see him get a chance when the time comes. But I think Kent will be better than Abreu next year, at least offensively.

People say that Kent won't walk away from 9 million dollars. Well, maybe he's tired of playing. Surely he's financially well off already? Or maybe he's tired of the Dodgers, after the way this season turned out. I think Kent could get a one year deal from some other team for close to 9 million dollars. This strikes me as exactly the kind of deal Colletti would give to Jeff Kent if he was out there on the free market. And I think Colletti is more typical of baseball GMs than atypical.

I think Kent will end up staying with the Dodgers. I don't see a situation developing somewhere else that's better for him. He may be frustrated now, but overall he's seemed to like being a Dodger, he likes the location, the Dodgers will content next year, and he's being paid well. I just hope he's not complaining at the end of next season too.

18 September 2007

Make Me Happy

Every single home run those Rockies hit in the night game I felt coming. I won't claim it was anything more than pessimistic dread at the end of realistic hope, or that I don't have plenty of "feelings" that are dead wrong. But when a feeling of doom becomes the truth, does it make it easier to take? I think maybe it does.

The games now aren't as special as they were in April. Winning makes September special; otherwise it's rather like a habit, routine without passion. It's going to take a whole lot of wins in a row now to bring back the spirit into this season. There have been too many losses, and April 2008 is looking a whole lot closer than October 2007 right now. I remember one season opener watching Raul Mondesi play in the outfield, make some great diving catch, and being so happy that baseball was back. Even though this September isn't quite dead yet, I'm already half into next April, wondering who will make me happy that baseball is back again. My money's on Matt Kemp.

The Soul of the Team

by Joshua Worley

In my fifth grade reading class they taught that conflict was at the heart of every story. A struggle between one thing and another. Man against nature; Man against man; Man against himself. The last is a favorite of educators and critics, because it goes straight into the soul of a character. Conflict creates plot: the duration of conflict is tension; the end of conflict is resolution. But sometimes the tension never leaves, especially when the conflict is internal. There is no resolution in the character's mind and soul, only a continuing struggle.

Consider the Los Angeles Dodgers of 2007. They are many stories, many conflicts. Team against team. It has been a summer full of little conflicts. Dodgers versus Padres; Dodgers versus Snakes; Dodgers versus Rockies. Each game has tension, and then resolution, even if it's rain.

Consider them again. The Dodgers of 2007 are also a single story. They are one conflict without resolution. Team against itself. It has been a summer for seeing what the team is. It has been a summer for seeing the character of the team, the soul of the team. What is the team? --- The team are those who play. What is the character of a team? --- The character of a team is in the quality of its play. What is the soul of the team? ---

This question is a diversion, but it is also at the heart of why any of us are here. Here, reading or writing about the Dodgers. It is a question that cannot be answered in the way the others can. This is because the question of soul cannot be answered by one person for another. Soul is passion; soul is in what we remember. Consider the Los Angeles Dodgers of 2007. What is memorable? What kindles a fan's passion? In the beginning, the passion is formless, a spark in the void, just a faith. It is blue letters and numbers on clean white uniforms. The voice of Vin Scully. The names of players we remember from stories before, some old friends, some old enemies. Some names we've never heard before. Then the games begin. The games give form to the passion. Many games are played; some few become memories. What is the soul of this team, these Dodgers? ---

My own answer will have to wait, because first it matters what the team is. The tension of the greater story is in this is. Is the team Gonzalez or Kemp? Is it Garciaparra or Loney? Is is young or old? Is is past performance, or present performance?

Consider the team against itself, in all the non-pitcher positions, save for catcher, where Russell Martin transcends all, belongs to all, is both young and veteran.

The Young Team

1B -- Loney
2B -- Abreu
SS -- Hu
3B -- LaRoche
OF -- Ethier
OF -- Kemp
OF -- Young

The Veteran Team

1B -- Garcia
2B -- Kent
SS -- Furcal
3B -- Parra
OF -- Pierre
OF -- Gonzalez
OF -- Pierre on his rest days

The tension is neverending because the conflict is not evenly decided. The standards the youth team members have to meet to play are so much higher than the standards the veteran team members have to meet. Absent overwhelming production it is unlikely any youth team member will last long.

If one evaluates the two teams on their merits only there is no true contest between the two. The youth team wins easily. The veteran team can't even field a full complement of the seven men required here. And yet they are allowed a curious flexibility: when Nomar was finally shoved off of first base he shuffled over to become a roadblock at third base instead. In any case the youth team is superior offensively at 5 of 7 positions, at all but the middle infield positions, and superior defensively everywhere but center field, with perhaps a push at shortstop.

And yet even with obvious superiority nearly everywhere it has been such a struggle for the youth team to get on the field! None of them started the year as true regulars; only Ethier has been with the team all year. Of course there was no reason for Hu, LaRoche, Abreu, or Young to be up at the start of the year, but Kemp and Loney were ready from day one, and between them they had less than a quarter of a chance before both were toiling in AAA, blocked by lesser veterans. By the midpoint of the year, it was clear that LaRoche deserved a fair chance with the big league team, with consideration also due for upstarts Young and Hu, the latter only because of Furcal's lingering injury.

Progress has been made, but how slow, how grudging, how incomplate, how exasperating to see how much the youngers have to claw and scrape just to get to this point! Even now only Loney is a true regular, and one suspects that he still might be sitting twice a week for the likes of Saenz and Sweeney and Hillenbrand if not for his Everest high production this month. Kemp and Ethier have made advances against Gonzalez, but His Veteranship is still entitled to a third of each of those youngster's starts. LaRoche appears to be getting his chance at third, as long as his back cooperates and he takes care of himself. Kent certainly belongs in the linuep, and Furcal even with his persistent injury probably does as well, though mightn't an occasional Hu start be a benefit for everyone? And then there is Pierre, the Pierre of every day, including his proper rightful rest days. Is it too much to ask that some few of his starts be yielded to give Kemp, Ethier, even Young a few more chances? Yes, it is too much to ask.

I am weary of it. I am sick of the tension. I am not weary of the conflict itself --- I am weary of how the conflict is decided, of how it is allowed to drag out long past the point when it should have been resolved, usually in the young player's favor. I have found the playing time given to Nomar and Gonzo and Pierre often more demoralizing than a tough loss. And Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand, I mutter. He sits on the throne of mediocrity. Attitude without aptitude. The motto for unworthy starters. They know how to win; they've been there before. That's great, and also useless. You win by being better, not by having special knowledge. You don't get extra runs or added talent for having been there before. Let the coaches tell them what they need to know!

The soul of the season is far removed from the tension. My rant over, I am ready to answer now. My answer, my memories, my passion. The story of the season is not a neverending conflict, but a series of revelations. A sense of wonder in the moment. Small conflicts, soon decided, small battles anticipated, more tomorrow, a rhythm for summer. Anticipation of Martin at the bat, Loney at the plate, Kemp in the box. The voice of my childhood, my adulthood, lifting up the poetry of the game for all to see. Kemp and the footprints of a triple. The line drive of Loney, sweet off the bat, a coherent blur. The impossible movement on Billingsley's pitches, the stuff of Cy Young dreams. Martin, so wise at the plate, like watching a patient craftsman, discarding poor specimens until he finds the one he likes, and then creation, a thing of beauty, a double to the gap. The arm of Ethier, the arm of Kemp, the fear of the runner rounding third, the upheld arms of the old man coaching at third. They throw as hard as they hit!

And I imagine next year, and the year after that, and know that it all began here, in this season. What wonders there are. And today, they play two.

14 September 2007

Tommy Lasorda

by Joshua Worley

Last night my wife asked me what it was like to root for the Dodgers when Lasorda was their manager.

I found it hard to answer the question at first, because since he left the job of manager I've come to dislike the man and his legacy with the team. Pedro, Konerko, high pitch counts, his unholy influence in front office decisions --- I could go on, but I won't. I want to peel all this negative stuff back to a simpler time.

When I was a young baseball fan I loved having Tommy Lasorda as Dodger manager. I thought he was the best. I was so proud that the Dodgers had only employed two managers in their time in LA. I was proud that the team lead the league in complete games by pitchers year after year. I loved Tommy's passion, the way he would go out and argue for his players. I loved how he would get out there and coach third base if the team was slumping. I was thought it was great when he would argue with all four umpires in one game. I loved how he always took out the pitcher himself ( though this changed in later years. ) Most of all I loved his enthusiasm. He bled Dodger blue; I bled Dodger blue.

I find myself wishing sometimes that Grady Little had some of Lasorda's enthusiasm. But probably what looked like enthusiasm to a young eager baseball fan was just theatrics. Do theatrics have anything to do with winning games? Probably not.

I miss the innocent days when I thought Tommy Lasorda was great. But no, I don't want them back.

The Battle for Survival: Attack of the Snakes

At this moment it appears that the Dodgers can lose 5 more games the rest of the year and still have a good shot at making the playoffs. After they've lost 5 games, every game becomes a must-win. ( Scroll down to the What If section of this link. ) That's just 5 slip-ups allowed in 5 series remaining: one way of looking at it is that the Dodgers are allowed just one loss per series from now on. First up is three with the Snakes.

Eric James Byrnes -- LF, Vinny's favorite

age: 31
bats: right

0.296 -- 0.365 -- 0.485

Even the Snakes' best healthy hitter reflects their team weakness: low on base percentage. Not that 0.365 is bad, but when it leads the team --- that's bad. Orlando Hudson is at 0.376, but he's out for this series. The Snakes have the lowest team OBP in the major leagues, at 0.317. It just isn't right that they're in first place in the NL west. But so it goes. You have to win the games, and they've done so.

Byrnes has stolen 45 bases in 51 attempts. He leads the team in runs scored with 95. Keep him off the bases!

Stephen Oris Drew -- SS

age: 24
bats: left

0.229 -- 0.303 -- 0.362

His BABIP is 0.265; his line drive rate is 15.4%. The approximate rule is that a player's BABIP should be 12 points higher than his line drive rate. His is 11 points higher. So while his batting average might be a little better with average luck, it's mostly his own doing that it's so low. Lots of strikeouts and softly hit balls.

How soon can we declare Drew a bust? It is too soon now, I think. But if he's sporting this kind of line next year at this time, then yes I would call him a bust. I think he'll be better next year, though. But perhaps never as good as people thought he might be.

Chris Brandon Young -- CF

age: 24
bats: right

0.237 -- 0.294 -- 0.472

He did it! He reached 30 home runs, as I thought he would at the beginning of August. He only had 11 through the end of June, so it was never a sure thing. But he had 8 in July, 9 in August, and 2 so far this month. So, the power is there. But so are the strikeouts.

As with Drew, his low batting average can't be attributed to bad luck. His line drive rate is 14.2%; his BABIP is 0.258. Matt Kemp, another young, ultra-talented, strikeout prone hitter, has a line drive rate of 15.1%, with a BABIP of 0.403! Hmmmm ...

Even though Young has a sub-Pierre on-base percentage, his home runs make him dangerous. He's likely to be a very good player in a few years. I will be annoyed if he gets more votes than Loney in the rookie of the year voting, though. Young can't touch Loney's rate stats. I'm sure those 30 home runs will speak louder than Loney's +0.900 OPS, though.

Justin Irvin Upton -- RF

age: 20
bats: right

0.239 -- 0.297 -- 0.413

His numbers look very similar to Drew's. You know, bad. You can't really say Upton has provided much of a boost to the Snakes since his call-up.

But while Drew's numbers should make one wonder about his future, that's not the case at all with Upton. First of all, these are just a month of games, and second of all, he's only 20. He's going to plague the Dodgers for years to come, most likely.

Upton already has 3 triples.

Mark Andrew Reynolds -- 3B

age: 24
bats: right

0.268 -- 0.330 -- 0.473

I still don't believe that he's for real.

He broke in with a spectacular May, a 1.299 OPS kind of May, with home runs, RBIs, a few walks to keep the pitchers honest, and buckets of base hits. He struck out less than a fifth of the time that magnificent month. And then June comes and the bottom falls out of those buckets. In June he's striking out about a third of the time, and his OPS is a dreadful 0.519. July is better, but not by much. OPS is 0.631, though by then he was striking out even more, three-eighths of the time!

Now, if things had continued this way into August the Snakes would likely have started looking for another option at third base, and his line wouldn't look as decent as it does now. But he turned things around in August, with a 0.944 OPS. So, everything is great, right? Well, maybe not. Just as in July, he struck out three-eighths of the time in August. So Reynolds hasn't solved his strikeout problems yet. He obviously can be a dangerous hitter, but he's going to have trouble sustaining a good performance if he strikes out so much.

Second Base

Octavio Augie Ojeda -- switch -- 0.250 -- 0.313 -- 0.329
Emilio Jose Bonifacio -- switch -- 2 for 10

The Dodgers don't have to face Webb in this series. Instead of Orlando Hudson at second base it's these guys. There's really no excuse not to win at least two out of three this weekend.

First Base

Conor S. Jackson -- right -- 0.281 -- 0.364 -- 0.456
Anthony Christopher Clark -- switch -- 0.242 -- 0.289 -- 0.495

Jackson and Clark share time at first base. If only one of them could play at shortstop instead!


Christopher Ryan Snyder -- right -- 0.247 -- 0.333 -- 0.428
Miguel Angel Montero -- left -- 0.229 -- 0.291 -- 0.408

It's easy to forget with Martin playing everyday that for most teams it's normal to have two light hitting catchers who split the playing time.

Douglas P. Davis v Brad Penny

So Doug Davis has never allowed a run to the Dodgers, or at least none in the last three years. So what? He's never had to face James Loney. Last night my wife observed that Loney often looks like he's about to cry. Yeah, he is. Weeping for all those pitchers he's abusing. Loney's line drive rate and BABIP, by the way? 22.4% and 0.357. He's the real deal.

Doug Davis is a lefty, which is part of why Loney has never faced him, I guess. I hope Grady doesn't start Hillenbrand at first or something, or I will have to write a mean limerick about him. Does "him" refer to Grady or Hillenbrand? Both.

It's time to break through against Davis. With Penny pitching it's imperative that the Dodgers win this game. Davis walks a lot of batters and is no stranger to the home run; he's not unhittable.

Eisler Livan Hernandez v Derek Lowe

How is Lowe's hip? His groin? His hand? Have Broxton and Repko been sedated and tied up in a basement to prevent further injury to Lowe? Is the Cascada cued up and ready to go for Saturday's start? If he doesn't hear those lyrics as he's warming up on the mound before the first inning his sinker just isn't right. 'Cause every time we touch, I get this feeling. And every time we kiss I swear I could fly ...

Lowe may give up some runs, but the Dodgers have to score more. Livan sucks. ERA is almost 5. His strikeout rate is worse than Maddux's, but unlike Maddux he walks a lot of batters. He's even given up 31 home runs! If the Dodgers don't win Saturday they don't deserve to go to the playoffs.

Edgar Gerardo Gonzalez v Esteban Loaiza

This is why I've been so adamant that the Dodgers have to win the first two games. Loaiza. Managed by Little. A deadly combination.

That said, I'm not sure Loaiza is any worse than Gonzalez. Gonzalez is another homer prone pitcher. You know, the Dodgers need to make sure all their big boppers start Sunday. Loney at first, Kemp and Ethier in the outfield, Betemit at third ... d'oh!

Well, at least they got a lights out reliever for Betemit ... d'oh!

Okay, at least they got someone whom Vinny can call "the doctor" for no good reason other than a rhyme ... whew. Finally a silver lining.

Anyway, I see no reason why the Dodgers can't sweep the Snakes, other than the fact that the Snakes are pure evil who want to devour all happiness from this world.

Oops, I'm ranting and incoherent. Better cue up the Cascada to calm myself down ...

Your arms are my castle, your heart is my sky.
They wipe away tears that I cry.

As long as all the snakes in that castle are killed, I won't have any tears.

13 September 2007

Game Notes

1. Vinny admitted his man-crush on Eric Byrnes in the fifth inning. :-)

2. Kent made two base-running blunders in the same inning. Dodger Thoughts covers this in much more depth, but I wanted to mention it too. Kemp isn't the only one who screws up on the bases.

3. The Dodgers did hit a fair number of balls hard, but it's clear that they got lucky more often than not on the placement of both the hard and soft hit balls. But that's the price Maddux is going to pay sometimes for being a low strikeout pitcher.

4. With the count 3-1 on Pierre in the third inning, Maddux did what he should do: pour a pitch right down the middle. No sense in walking the powerless Pierre; make him earn his way on. And Pierre did what he should do with that pitch: crank it for a single.

5. I believe that if Giles had cut off Wells's hit near the warning track in the right-center gap then Wells would have been held to a very long single.

6. Matt Kemp could probably circle the bases twice in the time Wells could get around once.

Questions That Need Answering

Is this a big game?

Yes, it's the difference between being 1.5 and 3.5 out, and no more games with the Padres remain. It's the biggest game of the year, in any case. But as long as the Dodgers are reasonably alive for a playoff spot then maybe each new game becomes the new biggest game of the year, so far.

What does it mean when David Wells is your pitcher in the biggest game of the year?

I don't know, but if the Dodgers win today and keep reasonable hope for a playoff spot alive, then we may yet be asking this question about Loaiza a week from now. I think the answer then will be a lot more depressing than the answer to this question today. But at some point you can't worry about who the pitcher is anymore. The pitching rotation is a wheel of fortune. Where it stops, nobody knows. Maybe Broxton should start whipping throws toward Loaiza? Paging Jason Repko, a pop fly is about to land near where Loaiza is warming up! ;-)

How do the Dodgers win against Greg Maddux?

Swing at the first pitch. Really. Opponents this year are hitting 0.398 off the first pitch against Maddux, much better than off of any other count. If the first pitch is not hit batters are hitting just 0.247 off of Maddux. Maddux has only walked 21 this year, so it's not as if anyone should come up thinking he'll draw a walk off him.

How do the Dodgers lose to Maddux?

Swing at the first pitch. Ugh. If the Dodgers make a lot of first pitch outs, then they're extending Maddux's effectiveness. He's markedly worse once he hits 75 pitches thrown. He almost never even makes more than 90 pitches. In 30 starts he's gone above 90 pitches only 6 times. So only swing at the first pitch if you'll get a hit off of it. Sound advice, no? This is my favorite kind of advice --- impossible to argue against, impossible to follow. Classic baseball advice, really. I, too, could be a baseball coach.

Is Grady Little slowly losing his mind?

Probably not. But some of his decisions make me wonder.

Is Grady Little making me slowly lose my mind?


How many Dodger blogs questioned Little's decision not to hit for Loaiza with the bases loaded down 4-0 on Tuesday?

Four, by my quick count. Dodger Blues, Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness, Cranky Curmudgeon Tony Jackson, and several commenters on Dodger Thoughts. And I was thinking that Little should hit for Loaiza at the time, well before I saw any of these other posts. In other words, this was an easy insight to come by. Almost anyone who gave a moment's thought to the situation realized that hitting for the completely ineffective Loaiza with a rare scoring chance against Peavy on the line and a deep, rested bullpen available was the correct choice.

What was the best headline related to the Loaiza incident?

Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness with "Is He Really Our Manager, or Just a Tourist Who Keeps Sneaking In?"

Well, which is it?

Hmmm ... tourist, I think. That would explain why he rarely wears the uniform top, but instead seems to favor that blue jacket. My wife hates that jacket --- she calls it his "old man jacket". She thinks it inspires the team when he wears the proper uniform.

Will James Loney hit a home run tonight?

Is the Space-Pope reptilian?

11 September 2007

This Is Not a Big Game

by Joshua Worley

Corey Brock of padres.com reports that Brady Clark may see some time in left field with Milton Bradley out. I haven't seen anything to suggest Milton has been completely ruled out for the series against the Dodgers, but an oblique strain seems like a nasty injury and even if he did try to play his swing might not yet be right.

The lead item in the above linked Padre roundup concerns Brett Tomko. The Padres are looking at starting Tomko on Saturday against the Giants. I know Wells has worked out well so far for the Dodgers, so there is precedent for a horrible pitcher changing teams and then doing surprisingly well. But still, I laugh. Why choose Tomko over Cassell? Tomko blames the Dodgers for wanting him to sacrifice velocity in favor of added movement on his pitches, and says his mechanics are getting back to where they should be. I have to agree with the Dodgers on this one, though. A Tomko with even less movement on his pitches is a scary thing. It's not as if he can throw 100 MPH, either. I don't care if he's throwing harder; big league hitters can hit his fastball. Especially if it's straight. Just watch, Padres. If you start him Saturday he'll be knocked around the park unless he can hit the corners all night long. Which he won't.

Peavy against Loaiza tonight. This is not a big game. Tomorrow and Thursday might be big games, but tonight is not. Why?

Nearly all BIG GAMES before the last week of the season are artifical. Losing a big game is devastating, and severly alters a teams chances moving forward. Game 5 of a World Series is a big game. The third from last regular season game is a big game if you're tied for the wild card at the time. A game three weeks from the end of the season is not a big game by nature, even if you are 2.5 games out. Of course being 3.5 out is worse, but there is still time to come back. There really aren't dire consequences for losing tonight's game unless we pretend there are.

Why pretend a game is a big game if it's likely to be a loss? The Dodgers are facing Jake "the Pulverizor" Peavy. The Dodgers aren't going to lose, but they are going in likely to lose. I don't want to wake up tomorrow feeling like the season is over because I overvalued one game. Important, yes. But not all-important.

If the Dodgers fall out of the race this week, it won't be because they lost a big game, anyway. It will be because they lost a lot of little games. Falling out of a pennant-scrap race is a slow death. Hope fades bit by bit, day by day. There are different points of surrender for everyone. It can be a miserable thing. I'm not going to compound my misery by making individual losses worse than they already are!

Of course, it's not a loss yet. The game isn't lost; the season isn't lost. The goal of winning the World Series is still in reach. Remote, but in reach. Just like tonight's game.

09 September 2007

Why bring in Broxton with runners on? Or why not?

By Griffster

I felt bad when Broxton was brought in to pitch, because I carry this perception that Broxton falls to pieces when he pitches with runners on. But is that just a perception, or does it have some basis in facts, cold hard stats?

Over his career, Broxton's inherited 50 runners, of which he's let 15 score. That's only 30% of inherited runners he's let score. This year ( given that recent results are freshest in one's memory ) he has inherited 21 runners, and he's let seven score. Well, that's 33%, which is around the same percentage.

Now the question is, how is he doing compared to others? Grabbing stats from a few of our other relievers:

Hendrickson has 22 career inherited runners, of which he's let 11 score. ( Of course, he's mostly been a starter! ) So, how about this year with LA, in relief? Well, he's had 10 inherited runners. He let three score. That is 30 percent again, in a small sample size. His stat is skewed by his rookie year, in which he let 6 of nine inherited runners score. So that 30 percent sounds about right for him where he's at currently.

Seanez has 247 careeer inherited runners. He let 98 score. That's about a 40% career rate. Ouch! What about this year with the Dodgers? 'cause remember, we're trying to pin down the perception of whether Broxton lets too many score. Seanez inherited 35 and let 16 score. That's 45%. So he's worse than career! To be expected at the end of a career.

What about Proctor? 149 career, 41 allowed to score. 27% career! With the Dodgers? 6 inherited, one scored. Small sample size. On the year he has had 37 inherited, 10 scored. 27% again. So, he's OK, slightly better than Broxton.

Hernandez' career: 401 inherited, 135 scored. 37%. This year: 6 of 19, 31%.

Beimel career: 196 inherited, 58 scored. 30%. This year: 10 of 47, 21%.

Saito MLB career: 38 inherited, 13 scored. 34%. This year: 4 of 11, 36%.

Looks like Broxton's 30% is around normal. Even somebody like Hernandez or Hendrickson who makes everybody cry "Game over!" has been pulling around 30% or slightly above for this year. Seanez is nasty bad.

Proctor and Beimel's been good - Beimel especially has been good about keeping those inherited runners away from home plate. So perhaps he would have been a good choice today. Who knows?

So, what's the bottom line? Broxton is not better than most other Dodger relievers at keeping runners from scoring, and he's certainly not the worst, either. He's about average. Why then the perception that he's letting them score? I guess because of high expectations. Broxton is a closer of the future, supposed to be a cut above the rest. Yet, he's just about average. Might as well bring Hernandez or Hendrickson in and leave Broxton to pitch when he's at his most dangerous - with the bases empty.

And maybe that's where my frustration with today's game lies.

It goes deeper than inherited runners, of course. There's also the question of pitching with runners on or none on, and with runners in scoring position or not. Here's the batting averages against for our selection:

Player None on Runners on Runners in scoring postion

Broxton .239 .209 .258
Hendrickson .273 .316 .336
Seanez .228 .279 .271
Hernandez .276 .337 .310
Proctor .279 .197 .173
Beimel .248 .270 .295
Saito .159 .175 .152

Well well. Broxton is one of the better guys in the pen if you look at those globbed together stats. Proctor ( runners on ) and Saito is better overall, Seanez is also better at not letting runners on to start with, and only twelve points worse with them in scoring position.

The bottom line, then, is that it is probably mostly a matter of perspective. We want Saito or Gagne or somebody lights out when Broxton comes up. He's the closer of the future!

But instead, he's just a good reliever. We'd better enjoy the Saito years. It may be that in future we won't have the smooth ride through the ninth we have with Saito and had before with Gagne ( remember Baez, anyone? ).

08 September 2007

Juan Pierre Hits a Home Run

by Joshua Worley

Last night I had a vivid, memorable dream in which Juan Pierre blasted a home run into right-center field in the seventh inning of a close game. He slid into home plate at the completion of his trip around the bases and his teammates mobbed him at the plate even though the game wasn't over.

I remember being so stunned and happy to have witnessed the miracle.

I guess this dream was my mind's way of trying to make up for the agony of last night's defeat. I don't focus on just the one error --- too many people screwed up in the same inning and the Dodgers paid the price. Some mistakes worse than others, of course, with Furcal leading the list. But behind him, in no particular order, Billingsly, Little, Kent, Proctor and Beimel all made mistakes that in isolation might be no big deal, but together created a disaster.

If the Dodgers win 14 of their next 21 games, they have a good shot of making the playoffs. Only 7 more disasters allowed.

07 September 2007

In which I shortly and sweetly loose patience with Little

By Griffster

So. Today's bonehead seventh inning mistake, letting the pitcher bat for himself and then yanking him pronto. ( As I write here Loney has already tied the game so this is not just a knee-jerk reaction ).

YESTERDAY'S bonehead mistake of letting the pitcher bat for himself and then getting into a knot.

I want a new manager.

I haven't been a Grady Little apologist. I have at most been a Grady Little tolerating person.

But right now, I'm just freakin' fed up sick and tired of Grady Little.

I want a manager with some life, I want a manager with some brains. Girardi or somebody who can manage young players, who can show that he cares a little about games, who can inspire players. No more of this tepid Grady Little nonsense.

Oh, there the Giants win. My rant about Little stands. Well done, Broxton.

The Dreams of the Departed

by Joshua Worley

This is a special time to be a Dodger fan. The team is in contention in September, in the thick and thin of an exciting pennant scrap race. ( The way I see it, each of the four NL playoff teams gets a pennant scrap, and the NL winner gets to sew the scraps together into a pennant. ) It would be nicer, of course, if the Dodgers were 2.5 games in front of a playoff spot, rather than 2.5 games out, but it's still exciting, and hope is very real.

But being in the pennant scrap race isn't the primary reason this is a special time. In watching the Dodgers we are getting to see a group of promising young players at the very beginning of their careers. It's like being 20 again, and seeing all of one's adult life ahead, with possibilities that feel limitless. We can imagine greatness ahead for these players. MVP awards, hall of fame careers. None of it might ever happen, but it could happen.

The truly great thing about this time is that it's not just in dreams of the future that these players are stars --- they are the stars of the Dodgers right now! Yesterday, in perhaps their most joyous win of the season, Ethier, Kemp, and Loney were the stars. Martin has been a star all season. I could go on, but I don't think I need to.

Instead, I say this: cherish this time to watch these young players, because though the future is full of promise, it is not guaranteed. They could be traded, or falter from their sure paths to stardom.

Below is a look at some of the departed:

Irvin Joel Guzman

There was a time when for a lot of Dodger fans and outside experts he was the Dodger position prospect, the young player to be most excited about. And why not? He was a power hitting shortstop, a bit raw, but apparently with all the tools to become a star. In 2005 he was ranked the fifth best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America.

But it probably will never happen for him. I'm looking back at his numbers, wondering with the clarity of hindsight if his fall from the top of the prospect lists could have been better anticipated. They are good numbers, but not great numbers. He had an OPS of 0.899 one year in A+, but he was mostly around 0.800 or lower in other years. Of course, he was always very young for his league, and also a shortstop. So maybe they were great numbers, in those contexts. But he never walked very much, and struck out a lot. Some young players can learn and move past an early trend of striking out too much, while others can't. It appears, sadly, that Guzman will be the latter.

The numbers for Guzman have gone down since he was traded away, and the context of his numbers has changed for the worse. He's no longer extremely young for his league ( 22 in AAA ), and he's now an outfielder, not a shortstop. More importantly his OPS this year was below 0.700, mostly due to striking out a quarter of the time and almost never walking. He's getting a look with Tampa Bay this September, but it's hard to see him having much of a major league career based on what he's done this year. It would be rash to say he'll never make it, though.

Ned Colletti traded Guzman after his star had fallen quite a bit. Since the trade it's fallen even more. But his fall troubles me the least among any of the three on this list, because I never really knew him as a Dodger. His brief time with the big club was uninspiring and unmemorable.

Edwin Jackson Jr.

Chronologically I feel he doesn't quite belong with the rest of the prospects I'm mentioning, though it was as recently as 2004 that he was ranked the fourth best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, just a year prior to Guzman's chart peak.

I don't think anyone who saw Jackson pitch for the Dodgers in 2003 will ever forget him. Beating the Big Unit on his 20th birthday, being so good, so young --- we had a star, a pitching prodigy! In September of 2003, Jackson turned 20 and pitched 22 innings for the Dodgers with an ERA of 2.46. The possibilities for him seemed limitless.

I've always felt, emotionally, irrationally, that Jackson's fall came because the Dodgers wouldn't put him in the starting rotation at the beginning of 2004 after a shaky spring. This will always bother me. Lots of pitchers scuffle through spring training. Hadn't he earned his April 2004 shot in the rotation with his 2003 September? There's no evidence that things would have turned out better for him if the Dodgers had put him in the rotation in April. Probably he would have been as bad as he was in reality in July and September of 2004. But maybe his confidence was bruised. I don't know.

Jackson is still only 23, but his fall from potential Dodger stardom seems ages ago to me. He's been pitching with the Tampa Bay major league club for 1 and a half years now, ever since he was traded to them by Ned Colletti. His monthly ERAs as a starter go like this: 7.2, 7.6, 6.1, 8.1, 6.5, 5.7, 2.5.

That 2.5 ERA is this past August, compiled in 5 starts over 33 innings, including a complete game shutout of the Texas Rangers. ( The same Rangers who once scored 30 runs! ) So maybe there's hope for him. But in those 33 innings he had 19 strikeouts and 16 walks. I don't know, that's not too encouraging. Walks have been Jackson's downfall since 2003. Same as Guzman really. It's not fair that the most boring play in baseball can shatter dreams, is it?

Dioner Fabian Navarro

There was a time, in late 2005, when I thought Navarro was the Dodger catcher of the future. I was a big fan of his. I still remember his walk-off home run late that season fondly. With Navarro I thought the Dodger tradition of great catchers was going to continue.

But then I met someone new. At first I was a bit skeptical, but within a month I was won over completely. I'm sorry, Dioner. It's not you, it's me. Well, sadly, it kind of is you. That line of 0.222 -- 0.280 -- 0.343 you're putting up this year makes me wonder what I ever saw in you. But I wish you the best --- maybe you can turn it around next year, eh?

As it turned out, Russell Martin was everything I thought Dioner could be, and more. He better not be departing anytime soon!

05 September 2007

Harrison Bergeron

by Joshua Worley

In the classic short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, everyone is finally equal. Those who are stronger and more athletic than the lowest common denominator are made to bear excess weight, in particular. My question: How much excess weight would it take to make Matt Kemp equal to everyone else? 1000 pounds?

But, tsk tsk, he made another out on the bases. Never mind that grizzled veteran Luis Gonzalez and honorary grizzled veteran Russell Martin also made outs on the bases. Martin probably has an excuse, because he really had almost no time to react on Loney's liner, but Gonzalez really should have seen that the ball Martin hit would fall. This was another of those games where the Dodgers scored fewer runs than they should have. But the inefficient run scoring didn't matter because they outplayed the Cubs by such a wide margin.

After Kemp was picked off, I was really hoping that he would spend the rest of his evening collecting base hits, to make those who would focus again on his baserunning woes look foolish. And he did! 4-5 with a triple: my only lament about it is that I missed the triple because I was doing laundry. Kemp does need to tighten up his baserunning, of course. I don't deny that. The way he's been collecting base hits he'll get plenty of practice.

I'm beginning to think Kemp could hit .330 over a full season even while striking out 20% of the time, because when he does hit the ball he smokes it, and then he gets down to first base so fast. What would be a normal ground out to the hole from another player will be hit hard enough by Kemp to go through, or if it's fielded he'll beat the throw anyway.

Jake Peavy is starting tonight for the Padres on three days rest. Otherwise he would have started Friday to open up the series with the Rockies. The Rockies have to be pleased with this development! From the Dodger perspective, it doesn't much matter, as either way Peavy's next start would come during the Padres' visit to Dodger Stadium. I doubt pitching on three days rest will bother Peavy. The Rockies are only a game back of the Dodgers. They're a team I tend to overlook, but at home they're a beast. Their four game series in Philadelphia next week could be huge in the wild-care race.

Chris Young of the Padres had another rough start. Last time his downfall was walks, 6 of them. This time he had only two walks, an improvement, but he also gave up two home runs. It could be that by his next start he'll finally get back into his groove; the reduction in wildness at least has to be mildly encouraging to Padres fans. Young's next start is scheduled to come in the finale with the Rockies on Sunday, which means the Dodgers won't see him. Is that good or bad? The Padre pitchers figure to be Peavy, Germano, and Maddux, unless they want to push Maddux back to give Cassel another shot at the Dodgers. It appears the Dodgers will have Penny, Lowe, and Billingsley lined up for that important series. But they're all important now: after this weekend every game but three with the Giants is with a rival for one of the precious playoff spots.

It's going to be hard to know who to root for in a lot of these other series. Is it better if the Padres or Snakes win today? For winning the division, a Padre loss is probably better, while for winning the wild card a Snake loss is probably better. But no one really knows yet. Same goes for the Rockies-Padres series this weekend. One would think it's better that the Padres lose, unless at the end of the year the Dodgers miss out on the wild card spot by one game to the Rockies! As long as the Dodgers keep winning everything will be fine. But will they keep winning?

For much of this season the Dodgers seemed to be handicapping themselves into equality with everyone else by taking on excess weight. Every veteran chosen over a more productive young player was like a bag of lead strung around the team's neck. We're almost to the point where the self-handicapping has stopped. Almost. The 200 pound weight of Shea Hillenbrand seems to have been discarded in favor of Andy LaRoche, though Ramon Martinez remains a danger. Gonzalez still gets too much playing time, but at least he's also being benched enough that's he's complaining about it. The senseless starts for Sweeney or Saenz at first base in place of Loney have stopped. The starting pitching is in pretty good shape, with Tomko and Hendrickson cast off. The Dodger starters are better than the Padres or Snakes at this point, by my reckoning, if only because of Chris Young's troubles.

Having cast off their excess weight and embraced their own potential for excellence, the Dodgers could go all the way, unless Diana Mets Glampers shoots them.

04 September 2007

Snake Hunt

by Joshua Worley

The Cubs can absorb losing two of the next three a lot better than the Dodgers can. Even if the Cubs were to be swept they would still likely be tied for first place, or just a game out. If the Dodgers lose three in a row, they slip into fourth place in the wild card standings.

So who plays better, the team with all the pressure on them, or the team who knows they have a cushion? The answer is probably neither, that pressure has little to do with who wins the game. But both "nothing to lose" and the opposite reason of "backs against the wall" are favorite lines in game stories late in the season. Why did team A win the game? Just reach into the big bag of psychological reasons and find the one that fits.

Of course the Cubs are feeling some pressure, but I do think it's less than what's on the Dodgers at this point. And yet I'm feeling pretty good about the Dodgers' chances. The Diamondbacks appear very catchable right now. You still have to give the Snakes the edge, because they are 3 games up. Who's playing better right now, though, between the Dodgers and the Snakes? Who's likely to play better in the coming weeks?

People often point to the Snakes' run differential ( currently 591-635 ) as evidence that they are a mirage. This two-week-old article by Chris Jaffe at the hardball times argues otherwise. His basic argument is that the Snakes negative run differential is largely a result of some truly awful back of the bullpen relievers, but that these men are only used in games that the Snakes are already on their way to losing, so the don't effect the bottom line of wins and losses.

Here are the OBP and SLG of the Snakes and their opponents:

Arizona -- 0.315 -- 0.407
Opponents -- 0.332 -- 0.419

Well, no wonder they've been outscored! Their opponents get on base more and push those runners around the bases more. But these numbers include the terrible back end of the Arizona bullpen, which is misleading since nearly everything they allow comes in sure losses anyway. So below are the OBP and SLG of the Snakes and their opponents when just the good Snakes pitchers are counted. I've used the pitching stats for the good five relievers of Slaten, Pena, Lyon, Valverde, and Cruz and the current four regular starters of Webb, Owings, Hernandez and Davis.

Arizona -- 0.315 -- 0.407
Opponents -- 0.324 -- 0.400

Well, this is much better. But it's still not exactly the profile of a winning team. This looks like a slighlty below 0.500 team to me, since OBP is more important to scoring runs than SLG.

( What about Randy Johnson? Should I have included him? Well, he's not important to the games ahead of the Snakes, but if he's included the SLG and OBP allowed each improve by just a point. )

Of course, the recalculated pitching numbers leaves out the Snakes' fifth starter. Dana Eveland made the last start in the 5 position, but he'll likely be replaced by Edgar Gonzalez next time around. Fortunately for the Snakes they get to skip the 5 spot once because of days off; unfortunately Gonzalez has an ERA of 5 on the season.

So yeah, the Snakes are better than their run differential. But not enough better to make them intrinsically better than the Dodgers, who do have the profile of a modestly winning team. The Dodgers have a 17 point edge in OBP and 13 point edge in SLG over their opponents. The huge advantage for the Snakes is that 3 game lead in the standings. The Dodgers can't have any more losing streaks.

I think there's a good chance the Snakes go 0.500 or worse in their remaining games. If they do that, the Dodgers have a shot at catching them. And ... so do the Phillies. In the end, the Dodgers may find it harder to stay even with the Phillies than to catch up with the Snakes!

02 September 2007

The Back Door

by Joshua Worley

When it comes to criticizing Matt Kemp, the front door is locked and barred, guarded by a large, red-eyed dog. Kemp's batting results are spectacular, the best on the team. 0.891 OPS. 0.335 batting average. His road OPS is 0.837 ( not counting today ) even though all nine of his home runs have come at home. He's stolen 8 bases in 11 attempts. The front way is barred beyond any doubt by Matthew Ryan Kemp.

How quickly we look for that back door, though. You just have to go around a bit, out of view of all that stuff in the front. The back door is unlocked, wide open even, and guarded, if one could call it that, by a friendly golden retriever who will lick your hands and invite you in. Welcome, welcome into the house of criticizing Matt Kemp. There's so much to see here, by way of this back door. Base-running misadventures. Strikeouts. Swinging at bad pitches. Looking over-matched and out of his league in certain memorable at bats. Being iffy in the outfield. Even today, while Kemp was in the process of locking down the front door even more with 3 hits, 2 runs scored, 1 RBI, he left the back door open even more when he was doubled off first base on a Jeff Kent fly ball.

All of these back-door criticisms are valid, in their usually very limited contexts. I've mentioned them or thought of all of them for myself on several occasions. And I wonder why. Why do I and others go to the back door so quickly? It's his youth, his newness, I guess. He's unproven, in the conventional sense. He certainly has things to learn, to improve upon. But let's not lose sight of that barred front door. When he plays Kemp does more than nearly anyone else to help the Dodgers win games. His net effect on the Dodger season has been overwhelmingly positive.

The truth is that every Dodger has a wide open back door for criticism. The difference is we don't look for it with most other Dodgers. I really think it's time to stop looking for it with Kemp as well. He does need to work on his base-running, defense, and plate discipline. But should such a big deal be made out of it? Should stories be written about his base-running blunders instead of his awesome hitting?

I began with this title to talk about how the Dodgers would now be looking to make the playoffs, but instead it became a piece about Matt Kemp. In the Dodgers case, too, the front door is barred. Most likely. In this case the front way is overtaking the Padres and winning the division. It's probably not going to happen. The Padres are a better team, and four games ahead, with only three head-to-head games remaining. If the Dodgers swept those games, then maybe, but really they'll be lucky to win 2 of those 3.

The back door is overtaking the Snakes and the Phillies and winning the wild card. The Snakes are better than I thought they were earlier, but probably still not quite as good as their record. Not as good as the Padres. Even though the Dodgers are also 4 back of the Snakes, I think they're a much easier target to overtake than the Padres. The Dodgers have 6 left with them, plenty of games with which to make some noise. This weekend has been disheartening, but it's too early to give up. Catching the Phillies and Diamondbacks is a reachable goal. It begins by attempting to take at least 3 of 4 from the Cubs. The back door is still open.

01 September 2007

Jettison Him Already!

by Joshua Worley

I'm inclined to blame the middle relief more than anything else, including Juan Pierre.

Look, maybe the Dodgers should have been ahead by 2 or 3 runs by the sixth inning, if everyone ( well, basically Kent and Pierre ) had played better in the field and on the bases. But the fact is the Dodgers were tied at 3 after 5 and half innings. The ballgame had become a battle of the bullpens. These are the kind of tight games that a team 3 or 4 games out of a playoff spot has to win. Only it didn't happen. Seanez and Beimel coughed up 3 runs, and the Dodgers couldn't score off of Brocail and Bell.

It would be foolish to say that the Dodgers have to win tonight and tomorrow to make the playoffs. It would be a lot better if they did, though. When you're 4 games behind a team, it's in large part those head-to-head match-ups that remain that give you hope. If we can beat them in those games, we'll be right back in it. Well, okay. Here are the head-to-head games. Time to win or forget about it. Splitting the last two games means being 4 back of a very good team with only 3 head-to-head games remaining. Losing both would mean being 6 back! So it's got to be wins in both games, or else face really long odds the rest of the way. Lowe and Billingsley have to each go at least 7 innings. With reasonable odds for reaching the postseason on the line, you don't want to have to trust anyone but Broxton and Saito in the 'pen.

It's also time to permanently bench Gonzalez and Hillenbrand. Will LaRoche even be called up? His stint in AAA was a rehab assignment, and not a reflection of where management thinks he belongs, right? I think LaRoche not being called up today would be even more depressing than seeing the Dodgers lose today. Or having him called up but seeing jerk and bad player Hillenbrand get the start at third anyway. He's not the second coming of Marlon Anderson! Marlon had an OPS of 1.243 with the Dodgers last year, Hillenbrand is at 0.643 so far with them. The Dodgers don't need Hillenbrand, with Abreu and LaRoche soon to be on the roster. Just jettison him already!