20 February 2008

All Notes Great and Trivial

Today, a rundown of some quotes from recent dodgers.com news stories.

Kuroda Cutter

"I heard in the States a fastball with movement away is better to have over here," said Kuroda. "I don't think I've perfected the location, but I was satisfied with the movement."

In Japan, Kuroda relied on a sinker thrown down and in to right-handed hitters, but many pitchers feel that Major League umpires are more likely to call strikes on pitches away than inside, one of the reasons for the recent popularity in the cut fastball.

I can't read this without thinking of the worst strike zone offender ever, the late Eric Gregg. He was at the height of his powers in the 1997 NLCS, when his ample strike zone helped Livan Hernandez strike out 15 to beat the Braves. I'll never forget that final "strike" to Fred McGriff, a pitch about a foot off the plate. One of the best things Bud Selig ever did was to not rehire Gregg after he resigned along with 21 other umpires in a negotiating ploy.

Strike zone discipline from umpires has become a lot better since then, but my observation is that we still see a lot more outside strikes than inside strikes called. The simplest explanation for this is that umpires set up over the inside shoulder of the catcher, meaning they can see the inside pitches a lot better.

However, the actual data paints a slightly different picture than what I think I'm seeing. This study done by John Walsh of hardballtimes.com last year shows a significant bias toward outside strikes to lefty batters, but no bias at all between inside and outside to righty batters. If this study is correct, then Kuroda's reasoning for learning the cutter is faulty, since the pitch he's trying to master is designed to cut outside for right-handed batters.

Russell Wear-down

Martin concedes he wore down in the second half, when he hit .275 after hitting .306 before the All-Star break.

Russell Martin's month-by-month OPS last year:

Apr: 0.863
May: 0.843
Jun: 0.807
Jul: 0.858
Aug: 0.943
Sep: 0.725

His best month was August, but his worst was September. If he wore down, it didn't show up in his hitting until September.

Another interesting Martin split from last year is that he was 16 of 19 in stolen bases before the all-star break, but only 5 of 11 after. I guess when you wear down, the legs are the first to go.

Lowe Averages

... Lowe is upbeat about the team's chances: "If everyone just has an average year, we've got a really good team," he said. "We have a lot of talent. We don't need a lot of career years to get over the hump."

I found this to be a deceptively provocative statement. Is this true, I wonder? Do the Dodgers make the playoffs if they have average years from everyone? But do we even know what an average year is supposed to be for most Dodgers? What's an average year for young players without even a full year of major league experience, such as Kemp and Loney? What's average from 40-year old Kent? Kuroda, who is coming to a whole new league? Schmidt, coming off of injury? A lot of average baselines have yet to be established or reset.

On reflection I've decided that the important thing is not that the Dodgers get average years from everyone, but that they get full healthy years from nearly everyone.

Lasorda's Lawn

The croquet field at Disney's Vero Beach Resort was renamed Lasorda Fielda in a Monday ceremony attended by the Hall of Fame manager, who will take over the Florida squad when Torre goes to China with the rest of the team next month.

I once got so mad playing croquet that slammed a mallet to the ground and broke it in half. I'd like to think Lasorda has done the same at least once in his life.

19 February 2008

Juan Pierre Juan Pierre Juan Pierre

It just never lets up. A ceaseless beat of Pierre. It is a nightmare where I struggle to wake up. I can hear the my alarm clock shrieking, "PIERREPIERREPIERRE". Must make it stop. Finally I break through and wake up and stop the alarm, but it's still blaring. I unplug the clock, but it's still going. I throw it out the window, and still I can hear it, all around me. "PIERREPIERREPIERRE" Because I haven't really woke up. I was tricked by the nightmare into thinking I was awake, but the telltale shriek of the alarm has exposed the lie. Juan Pierre is a nightmare I never wake up from.

There is nothing surprising about this story from dodgers.com, except for how angry it makes me. The story is utterly predictable, and almost entirely without real content, and could probably be written about nearly any other player who was in some danger of losing some starting time, and yet I'm still angry about how clueless Juan Pierre is about how much he sucks. "Some people value what I do and some people don't," he says. The people who value what you do, Juan Pierre, are the same fools who list your team-leading 668 at-bats last year as some sort of accomplishment.

It's bad enough that Joe Torre may award Juan Pierre a starting job based on his veteranhood or becuase he's impressed by his raw totals of hits and stolen bases, but it's even worse if Juan Pierre makes threats to cause trouble if he isn't starting. I wish Andre Ethier would demand to either start or be traded. But Ethier could be traded, since he is younger, cheaper, and better than Pierre. I can't imagine the Dodgers being able to trade Pierre, unless they ate about 80% of his contract and took back essentially nothing.

I look forward to a regular season Dodger game that does not involve Juan Pierre in any way at all. A game in which he doesn't start, never enters as a defensive replacement, pinch hitter, or pinch runner, is never shown sitting in the dugout, and is never even referred to, neither him nor his blighted streak. One could argue that Juan Pierre as much as anyone else was the face of the Dodgers last season. He was always around; we never got a break from him. And you know what? He wasn't even as entertaining to watch as I had been hoping he would be. He may not have been as awful in the outfield as he looked at times, especially early in the year, but he was never fun to watch out there. Now Andruw Jones! There's a player who's fun to watch in the field. It was only fun watching Pierre bat if you enjoy watching a blindfolded little kid try to break open a pinata with a whiffle bat. And watching Pierre steal bases was never as fun as it should have been because I was always worried he'd be caught stealing and add yet more to his prodigious total of outs created. Let's not even mention his outfield throws. Last year, both analytically and aesthetically, Pierre was pain.

And now, I realize, I'm inflicting him on myself. I didn't have to write up a post, only my second this year, all about Juan Pierre. I didn't have to read that stupid spring training article about how he wants to start. Every player wants to start; it's hardly surprising, or news. Start me or trade me; yeah, there's a new line. I shouldn't fault Pierre for saying what almost any other player would say. I shouldn't even fault him for not realizing that he sucks. Lousy ballplayers very often think they are better than they really are.

But I'm a fan, and the thing about fans is they want to see the best players. So don't hold it against me that I rail against Pierre. That's why the drumbeat against Pierre goes on. That's why seeing him in the field feels like a nightmare. Andre Ethier is better than Juan Pierre in nearly every way. Ethier is better in the field, better at throwing, better at taking a walk, better at hitting home runs, better hitter period. Juan Pierre is faster than Ethier. Oh yes, and also older and paid more. That's all it takes, I fear, for the nightmare to continue. Do I need to bring Matt Kemp into this, by the way? It's still not out of the question that Pierre could steal playing time from Kemp, is it? Kemp is in danger at the first sign of a slump, I fear. That's the great advantage Pierre has --- it's hard to be seen as slumping when people list your number of at-bats and other raw batting totals as positive accomplishments. What are we, second graders? Is it so hard to divide?

Still, not everything is grim on the Pierre front. As I wrote a few months ago when Andruw Jones was signed, Juan Pierre has lost his cover. He's not benched yet, and he's not likely to just outright lose his starting job, but the possibility is out there. Even with a veteran-favoring manager, Pierre now has to truly fight for his job, and Pierre knows it, and he's getting his back up about it. Maybe, finally, the nightmare will end.

14 February 2008

Pitchers and Catchers and Bloggers Report

People get all excited about pitchers and catcher reporting, but what does it really mean? There are no games, no real news. We don't get to hear Vin Scully on the radio yet. It just means some puff pieces about how good Jason Schmidt's arm feels will start coming out. The Tomkos and Hendricksons of the world will claim to have turned things around with a new approach. Spring Training is actually quite a maddening time. Even when the games start, they don't count, and no one really plays to win. Not really.

Pitchers and Catchers reporting means that baseball is coming, I guess. It's not here, not yet. But it's close. For the first time in months I'm excited about baseball again. I found this offseason really brutal. I didn't trust Colletti; I was sure that Kemp or LaRoche or Kershaw would be traded for a bodybag full of expired reputation at any moment. And so at the end of it, I was exhausted and unable to write anything for months. It's my own damn fault --- I should have ignored all the rumors. But that's over now. Baseball is fun again. Martin and Saito are reporting TODAY! That is exciting, if one looks at it correctly. They're getting ready to thrill, laying down the careful preparations to excel in a month and a half. There are not games today --- except in our imaginations. Feel free to snicker at that. I did as I wrote it --- but it's also a little bit true, at least for me.

Spring Training is the time for stories about how players are going to turn things around, or make a new beginning, or enjoy their new team, or carry on their past excellence. Spring Training articles are a lot like a Barack Obama speech: heavy on the hope and change. Not too much like an Obama speech, though. I don't want to hear about Dodgers needing to reach across the field to work with Giants.

Spring Training is a time for fluff. So why fight it, I say? I will combine two of the great examples of fluff, predictions and top ten rankings, into the first annual Dodgerama Spring Training Spectacular Top Ten Rankings Featuring the Players and Coaches Most Likely To Be Featured in Spring Training Fluff.

1. Joe Torre

Hey Joe, what do you think of the Yankees?
Hey Joe, do you think you can finally finish the job and blow out Proctor's arm this year?
Hey Joe, what about the Yankees?
Hey Joe, what is is like to face your old team in Spring Training?
Hey Joe, are you going to show those young players their place?

2. Juan Pierre

I just think the wronged lunch-pail-everyday-hard-worker angle will be too hard to pass up. We know Pierre is cranky about how things went this offseason, and that should be good for a few tense quotes about how he's just trying to do his job everyday regardless of what the team has in store for him. Writers will talk about all the hits and stolen bases and runs he piled up. They'll ask him if he gets along with Andruw Jones. Pierre was the Dodger lightning rod last year, and given that this year he's lost centerfield, lost his stranglehold on playing every day, but not lost his crazy huge contract, he'll continue to be a lightning rod.

3. Andruw Jones

New players and players who need to bounce back are common features for ST stories. When you have a player who fill both roles, you have someone who's going to be in heavy Gurnick-rotation over at Dodgers.com.

4. Nomar Garciaparra

Nomar, you sucked last year. Can you make a comeback this year and keep young punk Andrew LaRoche away from your job? Nomar still has huge name recognition, which makes him an attractive target for spring fluff. And I'm sure there will be some references to Mia and the twins in these pieces, further upping the fluff factor. If Mia had given birth to triplets this winter Nomar would have come in at number 1 for sure.

5. Jason Schmidt

Breathless stories about how he's now throwing 10 miles per hour await. "Schmidt pitches T-ball practice" headlines will declare. Torre will say he looks good, "as good as Mike Mussina".

6. Matt Kemp

These stories can go either way. They might be about the newly humbled youngster who just wants to learn and contribute any way he can. "I'll sweep up Jeff Kent's sunflower seeds." Or they might be about the unrepentant brash youngster who vows to do it his way and take the league by storm. "I'll hit home runs so far they break Jeff Kent's motorcycle in the parking lot." Both angles are spring training gold.

7. Hiroki Kuroda

New guy. Big expectations. Cultural awkwardness. Any story about Kuroda will heavily feature: his translator, Takashi Saito, a humorous incident involving trying to communicate with Russell Martin, and either his love or disgust for American food.

8. Russell Martin

How good can he become? What about the contract negotiations? Who is he dating now? How will he deal with no longer catching Hendrickson?

9. Jeff Kent

Jeff Kent is kind of like John McCain. He's a weird older guy with a reputation for "straight talk". Kent's remarks about steroids this off-season will only help his profile in ST stories.

10. Tommy Lasorda

You know he's going to mug his way into a few Spring Training stories. It's inevitable, especially with the final season at Vero Beach. In a way, Tommy Lasorda is perfect for Spring Training. All fluff and little substance. Ugh, what a depressing way to end the Spring Training top 10.