31 July 2008

My Reaction is Giddiness

I loved the potential of Andy LaRoche. I thought he was going to be special, and I wanted him to be a Dodger for the productive years of his career. But I resigned myself to losing him weeks ago. For whatever reason the Dodgers picked Blake DeWitt over LaRoche as the third baseman of the future, and they trusted neither for down the stretch, instead acquiring Casey Blake. So my reaction at the Dodgers trading away LaRoche is merely a muted sadness, a passing sorrow. Andy, I mourned for thee already. Best of luck with your new organization.

I am aware of all the negatives Manny brings. The bad defense, the bad attitude, the filthy filthy helmet. But it's MANNY. The Dodgers have Manny Ramirez. I can only feel stunned and mostly happy and about that. I'm crazy curious to see how the likely brief Manny era treats the Dodgers. I can't wait to see him in Dodger Blue. I can't wait to hear his first crazy quotes as a Dodger. Surely the inevitable "era of good feelings" that will begin between Manny and his new non-Sox team can last for three months? Yes, three full months, all the way to the end of October? Yes?

And, may I say, well done Ned Colletti. I don't approve of the decision to give up on LaRoche, but once that decision is made, well, this is the best possible return imaginable for LaRoche, isn't it? All this time I thought LaRoche would be traded for some reliever, or at best a middling shortstop. Instead they only get a superstar hitter!

Srooc Field

Below is a modest presentation of average runs the Dodgers have scored and allowed this season home and away, along with the pythagorean winning percentages based on the home and away run differentials.

------ Dodgers -- Opp -- PythWP
Home -- 3.9 -- 3.1 -- 0.605
Away -- 4.5 -- 4.9 -- 0.457

The Dodgers have been a far better team at home, and most of that is due to a huge home/road disparity in the Dodger pitching. Last night's win was the tenth shutout for the Dodger pitching staff. All ten have come at home.

The Dodger relievers do well on the road. Park, Kuo, Broxton, Saito, Wade and Beimel all have sub-4 ERAs on the road. The starters are the ones who fall down when pitching in strange ballparks. Kershaw, Penny, Lowe and Kuroda all have ERAs above 5 on the road. Only ace Billingsley does well away from Dodger Stadium, with a sparkling 2.84 ERA that's even better than his home ERA.

At home, nearly every Dodger pitcher does well, except for two pitchers who have battled injuries this year, Penny and Proctor. Billingsley, Kershaw and Kuroda are all in the 3-3.6 ERA range, and everyone else has an ERA below 3.

What is going on here? Why is the Dodger pitching so much better at home? Is it park factors? The Dodger offense also benefits from being on the road, though the disparity is not as severe as it is for the pitching. There was a time when Dodger Stadium was the most extreme pitchers' park in the major leagues. But that was before all the new dugout seats were put in and the foul territory was cut almost in half. Lately Dodger stadium has played neutral, or even as a slight hitters park! But just based on this year's numbers Dodger Stadium is looking like the most extreme pitchers' park around. What could have changed this year?

I don't know. I can't even come up with any half-baked theories. Are they microwaving the baseballs to deaden them? Is the mound a little too high? Is the air heavier this year? Is the grass different this year? Maybe it's just --- random.

29 July 2008

This loss belongs to K

There are two plays that eat me up about the fourth inning of last night's 7-6 Dodger loss, and neither one is the ill fated fielder's choice off the come-backer. That play, when Kuroda didn't hear Martin's directive to throw to first, resulted in the bases being loaded with one out. It was a breakdown in communication, but not an exposure of weakness. I'm not worried about a play like that happening again this season. It's a freak play; the communication is usually there.

I am worried about Jeff Kent's range. His failure to snare a ball hit up the middle last night was not surprising and did not reveal anything new about Kent's defense. That ball can only be described as being hit up the middle because it got through, more properly it would be described as being hit to Kent's right, a likely double play ball. I suppose I should be fair: to get to that ball and start the double play, or at least get one out somewhere, would require a good play. But most major league second basemen will make the good plays consistently.

Kent's defensive failure was a reminder of just how damaging bad defense can be. I tend to think of bad defense by the Dodgers as a minor flaw in an otherwise harmless inning, or as a minor irritant that let in an extra run. In other words, I expect the pitcher to always compensate for bad defense. When the error is made, or an expected out is botched into a gift hit, just get the next guy. If one hitter could be induced into hitting a ball that should have been an out, then surely the next batter can be similarly induced, with the expectation that this time the defenders will record the out.

But hitters can't always be induced. They can't always be made to hit the ball poorly. Sometimes they are induced to hit it poorly and it's still a hit. Sometimes everyone is safe because the pitcher didn't hear the catcher yelling to throw to first. Balls batted into fair territory always carry a risk for the defensive team. The lesson: strike them out if you can. Especially when there are already runners on base.

I am worried about Kuroda's failure to strike out the pitcher in the fourth inning last night. Kuroda has had three bad starts in a row. He's a guy who seems to either be great or awful. But his numbers point to mediocrity.

Here is a modest chart showing batters faced per strikeout for selected Dodger pitchers, as well as the major league average. A lower number is preferred, clearly.

3.3 -- Kuo
3.5 -- Broxton
4.1 -- Billingsley
5.2 -- Park
5.4 -- Kershaw
5.5 -- Wade
5.7 -- Lowe
5.8 -- Major League Average
7.3 -- Kuroda
7.5 -- Beimel
8.1 -- Penny

Relievers tend to have a strikeout advantage over starters because they don't have to worry about sticking around too long, but still, this is an impressive group of relievers the Dodgers have. Even my favorite early season whipping boy Park has an impressive strikeout ratio. Billingsley is a stud, Kershaw is solid and likely to get better, and Lowe's slightly better than average ratio works for him because of all the ground balls he induces. Penny has been hurt and ineffective and it shows in his strikeout numbers. I've given up trying to understand how Beimel can be such an elite reliever with his strikeout totals, but he does it year after year. And then there's Kuroda, holder of a sub 4 ERA for most of the year, and also holder of a pretty awful strikeout ratio.

There's more to being a pitcher than strikeouts. Still, making hitters miss, or mostly miss ( for a pop up or weak grounder ) is the most important part of it. The 1-2 pitch Kuroda gave to Correia last night was not a pitch to make a batter miss. It was up, about waist high, on the outer half of the plate. Exactly the sort of pitch that can be easily hit for a line drive the other way, even by a poor batter. That hit was the most frustrating moment of the inning for me. There's no use crying over a freak play earlier when you had a chance to escape the inning with the pitcher batting and didn't take it.

Kent and Kuroda aren't going to get any better. Kent is old and stiff and a poor defender and nothing will change that. Kuroda is old and unlikely to suddenly start striking out a lot more batters than he is right now. The Dodgers just have to live with them, and hope Kent has a few more home runs and doubles in him, and Kuroda has a few more complete game gems in him. And hope, also, that the weaknesses of Kent and Kuroda don't conspire again with some freak plays to lose any more games for the Dodgers.

25 July 2008

I wanna write

Now that I've let drift away what few readers I may have had, I return, ready to again add my small portion to the great mass of internet babble. Often called the tubes or the interwebs in joking fashion, I think rather to call the internet the babbles. There is no threshold of competence or lucidness required to make your own popping noises in the babbles. Sometimes, if you strain hard enough, you can hear a symphony amidst the cacophony of opinions and profiles and gossip and vitriol and McCain and Obama and porn. But it's mostly babbles, and I'm back to add to the noise.

I have occasionally received some words of encouragement about this nearly defunct blog, and they do mean a lot of me. Today my wife suggested I make another post here, and I opined that it was likely too late for that, and she said, "But I wanna read!" I can't argue with that. I was even moved to create the inartful title of this post from her concise demand.

We took a trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains recently. It was a four day vacation only, barely long enough for the body to get used to clear air and unstressed silence before being plugged back into the working city. Er, or maybe town instead of city: that is a question of definition. I don't live in LA --- where? --- that will come later. Our own trip coincided with the Dodgers' trip to Florida. We had a lot more fun than the Dodgers did. There were no TVs or telephones or wireless babbles to distract, but I did bring a transistor --- windup! --- radio. The radio will take batteries, but I find it amusing to crank the dynamo every once in a while instead to keep it powered. This is perhaps the same kind of thinking that leads Joe Torre to start Blake DeWitt ahead of Andrew LaRoche most of the time. I get a vague feeling of grit, of doing things the right way when I crank that radio, which is what I imagine Joe Torre feels when he writes down DeWitt on the lineup card. I think in the cases of both the radio and the lineup a little more juice would be in order.

On this radio I could pick up Dodger games if I tilted the antenna and rotated the dial exactly right. The station we picked up was our hometown Dodger station, something I found astonishing given how far away it was. Our home station is 1560 KNZR Bakersfield, and we were in the mountains north of Mammoth Lakes. Sometimes the game would just drift away, replaced by mariachi music. It required an active effort to listen to the games, both in cranking the dynamo and tending to the antenna and amplitude. I'm surprised I went to the effort, given how weary I have grown of this season. I was relieved to not have to see the Dodgers on TV for more than a week, with the long four day All-Star break following our vacation. Between that break and the Dodgers recent flirtations with decent play and first place, I feel ready to commit again to the season. And to Dodgerama, I guess.

I guess the Dodgers are looking hard at trading LaRoche. That's what the babbles say, anyway. I keep thinking about that trade of Paul Konerko for Jeff Shaw during Lasorda's brief tenure as general manager. Don't give up on a stud young prospect too quickly, or Shaw enough you will get burned. Maybe twice: first for having given up too soon, and second because you have to live with the ineptitude of the player you got back in return. Jeff Shaw, I suppose, wasn't too awful, but my primary memory of him, besides Vinny always saying "Shaw enough" when he came in to pitch was that he always made me nervous, almost as nervous as "Hot Toddy" Worrell made me feel.

I think Colletti must know that LaRoche is a better choice at third than DeWitt moving forward. I figure he has to know this since LaRoche clearly has more trade value than DeWitt. Maybe I figure on too much. I can't imagine the Dodgers trading Andy for a relief pitcher, since what the team really needs is offense on the left side of the infield, and again I figure Colletti knows this. I say just plug Andy in at third the rest of the year and see what he's got.

I'm going to do the same, in a manner of speaking. I'm going to plug back into the Dodger season and see what they've got. And see what I've got, see what I can do with this decrepit, nearly defunct blog. The babbles is my oyster!