31 July 2009

Broxton Angst

I wonder if Broxton is still hurting. Where did that walk to Joey Thurston come from? How does that even happen? He wasn't right. I could see it. I chickened out for the next batter, and fed the cats. Really! So I missed the first out of the ninth inning last night, but I hear it was a scary out to Manny. Then Ludwick came up, with Pujols on deck. Two home run threats in a row. Three, if Holliday comes up. I really feared for that game. If Broxton can be wild off the plate, he can be wild right over the heart of the plate when he really meant for the pitch to be on the corner. He did it in the terrible extra-inning loss Wednesday night, when he cocked that game into a 15-gallon hat by leaving two off-speed pitches right over the heart of the plate that turned into singles, with a wild pitch in between. He's just not right.

Nothing I saw in that Ludwick at bat changed my mind. Broxton got to a 2-1 count, but the strike came on a swing at a pitch out of the zone, in my judgment. And then on the next pitch Ludwick hit a fliner with more line than fly in it to left field, but Manny was there, and he made an awkward catch with his glove up against his kidney. Okay, two outs. And Pujols coming up.

But Broxton owns Pujols. Pujols hacked a feeble foul on the first pitch, then hacked a feebler comebacker on the next pitch, and Broxton nearly hand-delivered the ball to Loney for the out. After that out Pujols is 1-8 lifetime against Broxton. If you just judge Broxton by his performance against Pujols and Holliday in this series, he did great. It's what he did against the rest of them that makes me think there is still something wrong with him. Maybe his toe, or maybe something else he tweaked while trying to compensate for the toe.

If there is anything slightly wrong with Broxton, just shut him down for two weeks. Wise or not the Dodgers have Sherrill now, so why not use him? Sherrill can close while Broxton comes back to fullest health. The only problem is that I'm sure Broxton will never let on if something is bothering him. And maybe there isn't. But I watch him and I don't believe it.

Game 102 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Blake -- 1
Kuroda -- 1

I really wanted to give one to Furcal for his glorious booming double to drive in two and release the Dodger offensive hounds. But Blake was 4-5 with two runs scored, and that was Furcal's only hit, so I can't do it. I hope Blake is coming out of his slump here.

Game 102 Unfair Loss Shares ( Cardinals )

McClellan -- 1
Reyes -- 1
DeRosa -- 1

Finally the Dodgers were able to really push around the Cardinal bullpen. DeRosa wins a narrow battle among some other Cardinal hitters who had poor days because he struck out twice. I thought about giving the unfair loss share instead to Joe Thurston, because his miss of first base was still reverberating hilariously a day later. I'm surprised he remembered to touch first base on his walk in the tenth!

And now, Wednesday night's game:

Game 101 Unfair Win Shares ( Cardinals )

Pinero -- 1
Hawksworth -- 1
Pujols -- 1

If I was going to make up a name for a butler, it would be Hawksworth.

Game 101 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Broxton -- 1
Ethier -- 1
Martin -- 1

It is tempting to give Broxton two unfair loss shares for yakking up the game, especially after he did the hard part of getting Pujols and Holliday out. But it was just one run, and the Dodgers could have won it in extras. One is enough. Troncoso also blew a save, but he probably shouldn't even have been in the game. Weaver lost the game, but only in his third inning of work. No, the offense was the real culprit in this game. Martin was 0-7, just an awful game, and Ethier was even worse, in a way. Ethier was 0-5 with two walks, but one of the walks was intentional, and he hit into a double play and made lots of late outs with runners on base.

30 July 2009

Rumor of the Day

Look who the Rockies have been linked to!

Yep the one and only, Mark "Timber!" Hendrickson. I really hope that happens. In a really weird way that would make up for that time the Dodgers traded for Tom Goodwin.

Why do they do it, anyway? Why do teams trade for terrible players?

When Hendrickson came to the Dodgers, I was excited because he had played in the NBA too. Even if he had been a stiff in the NBA. Only it turned out he was also a stiff in the MLB. I never got over my disappointment that he didn't have a good fastball. How could that be? How could he not have a great fastball? He's so tall! Like Randy Johnson.

Nope. Not like Randy Johnson at all.

Hey, Rockies, I hear Brett Tomko is available.

( It's true. He was released yesterday. )

Negative Thing

Dodgers trade away prospects for reliever. Does it matter who the reliever is? Does it matter who the prospects are? Is it ever a good idea to trade for a reliever? Has the bullpen been a weakness?

The reliever is George Sherrill, of course. There's a new Sherrill in town. Ha ha. He's got pretty good stats for this year, I guess. Good walk and K rates, as far as I can tell. He was good in 2007, kind of bad in 2008 when his walk rate was up. He might stink for the rest of 2009. He's a reliever, you know? They're unpredictable.

Positive Things

Kershaw is amazing.

It's really funny when runners miss a base.

Kershaw is an ace. Yeah, an ace.

The Dodgers have a lead of 7 games in the division.

There is only one game left in Saint Looie.

Seven games! That's a fantastic lead! No guarantees, but man, that's not the kind of lead you get depressed over.

I resolved last night not to get bummed out over the result of the game after Joey Thurston missed first base. That was just too absurd to not be taken as a sign, I felt. It's not that serious. And even if it was, what team would you rather be staking your life on than the Dodgers right now? You could make arguments for other teams, sure, but the Dodgers are right near the top of that list.

No unfair shares from the game last night. Not now. I'll probably fold it into tomrrow's entry just for completeness. Right now I just don't want to get into blame for why the game was lost. I'm ready for the next game.

29 July 2009

The Forest

You can't see the forest for the trees, they say, when the details become everything and the whole is ignored. But take this cliche further, all the way down to the roots, to where the forest and the trees are imagined as real. You can observe the forest from a distance, see it on the horizon, a jagged ribbon of dark green. That is the forest, observed whole, as if under glass. To be in the forest is something else entirely. Then you can't see the forest, not because you are focused on the trees, but because you are inside of it. The forest is happening all around you. There is no sky, no direction. Distances close in. The light is diffuse, scattered, entering at strange angles, as if from a thousand tiny suns. To be lost is one's natural state in a forest. It takes effort to remember north, to measure the miles, to trace one's steps back to the pathways of the world.

In my pursuit of the Dodgers I have entered the forest. I have lost perspective. What is Billingsley? What kind of pitcher is he, really? I can't answer this question. I cannot see far enough. I cannot even begin. I cannot stand and face north. I cannot orient myself. Five innings of brilliance, and then an inning of disaster. Even in one start he contradicts, confuses. The wind blows, swaying the branches, shifting and confusing the light ahead. Was it the rain? Was he tired? Was there a moment when a ground ball was hit that might have ended an inning with a double play, but it went up the middle instead? I do not know. Six walks. Six runs. Not even six innings. Can I remember a time when Billingsley was a great pitcher? Can I? It happened, yeah? It was happening? Maybe it still is, except for a bobble, a detour, something, some reassuring metaphor for a man lost who can be found again? But none of that seems real in the forest. This is a different world.

I have heard that cheering is not allowed in the press box. I wonder, too, if there should be no cheering in the General Manager's box. To cheer is to lose one's perspective, to immerse oneself in the game, forget the sterile rules of observation, plunge into joy or despair. Why in the name of reason should the actions of these men on the field compel emotion? If you were to evaluate Chad Billingsley, decide if he were to be traded or not, would you let passion guide your choice? Anger, or disappointment? I do not think Billingsley will be traded. Even the rumors have produced barely a whisper of his name. But I wonder if minds were mind up about what Billingsley is, based on this game. Or were they made up long ago? I don't know. I cannot, cannot even speculate on what is in Ned Colletti's mind. I just hope his perspective is clear. I hope he sees it all, the forest, and the trees. And those around him, too.

I am still lost, still imprisoned by the quiet green and dark of the forest. Where is the offense? Where are the runs driven in? Where is the hit that inspires? Where is the home run? Are they pressing? Which perspective do I call correct? Is there some deeper sickness, some flaw running up through the earth, and only now exposed after 100 games? Too many questions. If there are no answers, why do I ask? When you are lost, it is useless to ask why you are lost. To fret over the unknowns is to indulge in despair. Patience is a compass that gives direction to the lost. That's all I know.

Game 100 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Billingsley -- 2
Blake -- 1

Game 100 Unfair Win Shares ( Cardinals )

Wainwright -- 2
Ludwick -- 1

28 July 2009

Going for 11-0 in Stopper Games

When the Dodgers are coming off two consecutive losses, their record is 10-0. Following is a brief summary of every stopper win the Dodgers have had this season.

April 11

The Dodgers were 2-3. Opening day starter Hiroki Kuroda was lost to injury. The Dodgers had just lost the series opener to the Snakes, who at the time were their presumptive division rivals. No one yet knew how good the Dodgers would become. This game wasn't about not losing three in a row. It was just about getting back to 0.500. Erik Stults got the fill-in start and pitched effectively, while the Dodger offense trampled the Snake 'pen. The Dodgers won going away, 11-2.

April 23

The Dodgers were 10-5, but had just dropped their first two games in Houston. The Dodger offense had scored 10 runs in the first two games, but Kershaw and Wolf had been pushed around. But the Dodgers had early season ace Chad Billingsley going in the final game of the series, and he combined with Broxton for a shutout as the Dodgers salvaged the final game 2-0.

April 28

After losing the series finale in Colorado and the series opener in San Francisco, the Dodgers faced a 3-3 tie going in the ninth inning of game two in San Francisco. This time the heroics belonged to the Dodger outfield. Manny doubled, Ethier doubled, and Kemp tripled to give the Dodgers a 5-3 win. Billingsley started the game and kept the Dodgers close enough to win it.

May 9

Eric Stults was again a streak stopper, pitching a four hit shutout in game three of the Manny suspension. The Juans ( Pierre and Castro ) combined for 5 runs batted in as the Dodgers toppled the Giants 8-0.

May 13

After Stults' unlikely shutout, the Dodgers lost their next two games, so that through the first 5 games of the Manny suspension the Dodgers were 1-4. The Dodgers were not only attempting to prove they could win without Manny and prevent their first three game losing streak; they were attempting to simply win a game in Philadelphia, after losing four in the 2008 regular season, two in the 2008 playoffs, and the series opener. The fates seemed lined up against the Dodgers, but the Philly hex was finally broken as James Loney hit a three run home run and Wolf pitched a gem, sending the Dodgers to an easy 9-2 victory.

May 31

Yet again the Dodgers turned to a fifth starter to avoid a third straight loss. The Dodgers had lost games two and three of a home series to the Cubs, and Eric Milton was scheduled for the finale. He pitched effectively, but more important were the five runs the Dodgers piled up in the first inning. The Dodgers cruised to an 8-2 victory.

June 13

Going into the seventh inning of game two of their series in Texas, the Dodgers had scored just two runs in their previous 24 innings against the Rangers and the Padres. Tied 1-1 and facing an ongoing run shortage, Matt Kemp came up to the plate and belted a two run home run to end the drought and deliver a 3-1 victory. Wolf started and had a short but effective outing.

June 26

The Dodgers had given up 16 runs to drop the final two games of their series against the White Sox in Chicago. The Dodgers opened their home series against the Mariners needing a strong pitching performance, and they got it from Clayton Kershaw, who gave up 2 runs through 6 innings. They also got three home runs from Andre Ethier, and won easily 8-2.

June 29

The Dodgers dropped the final two against the Mariners, giving them their second 1-4 stretch this season. The Rockies came in to Dodger Stadium on fire, having won 20 of 23. The Dodgers would have no easy victory this time. Wolf had yet another stopper start, and he pitched well again, but a Spilborghs home run in the top of the fifth put the Dodgers down 2-0. What Wolf gave he took right back in the bottom of the fifth inning, as he singled in two, and those were the only runs anyone would score for 12 innings. Andre Ethier finally settled matters with a walk off home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Dodgers a 4-2 win.

July 18

The Dodgers began their post-All-Star schedule with a four game home series against the Astros. The Astros won the first two of the series, but the Dodgers sent rising ace Clayton Kershaw to the mound for game three and he pitched seven shutout innings. The Dodgers won a fairly comfortable game 5-2.

July 28

The story of tonight's game has yet to be written. Billingsley will be the starter, which is probably a good thing, though his recent struggles are a concern. But if Billingsley does poorly he will be the first, since no Dodger pitcher has yet turned in a poor start when the Dodgers face a third loss in a row. The Dodgers have gone to Wolf three times, Billingsley twice, Stults twice, Kershaw twice, and Milton once and never faltered. In all 10 games the Dodgers have given up a total of 16 runs. Never more than three. More than two only once. Can they hold Pujols and the Cards in check tonight?

Double Your Disgust

... with DoubleDill gum. That Dodger game last night was like a stick of DoubleDill gum, the mythic counterpart to Wrigley's Doublemint Gum of "double your pleasure" fame. Maybe you are thinking that you like dill, that it can be a nice complementary flavor. Well, yeah. But this gum is only dill, and it's double the dill. You chew and chew and more and more dill flavor is released in your mouth, and it never goes away. EVER. Trust me, it's nasty. As nasty as Manny's dreads. As nasty as a double play to suck the sweet run-scoring juice out of an inning.

The Dodgers won the on-base battle again, this time by the narrow margin of 16-15, but they still lost the game. Though if you count Holliday reaching on Blake's error, then the Cardinals tied the Dodgers in runners reaching safely. But then if you subtract Pujols being gunned down at second down by Kemp, the Dodgers were still ahead by one. But then if you factor in all those double plays ...

Aww, too complicated. I prefer just to add up hits and walks and hit batters. The bottom line is that the Dodgers are okay. They went up against the Cardinal ace and got plenty of guys on base against him. They were just doomed by untimely hitting. Unseemly hitting. If anything the bigger concern would be the pitching. Fifteen runners allowed is a bit much. But in truth without Blake's error only 12 Cardinals would have reached safely. The time to panic has not yet come.

The time to panic will be tonight, if they lose for the third straight time all season. Only losers lose three straight games. If the Dodgers lose a third straight tonight, it will prove they need Halladay. Trade Billingsley AND Kershaw for him if that's what it takes! Halladay can pitch every third day. I'm pretty sure that's true. I'm pretty sure I heard Ken Rosenthal say that. Halladay will win every start and the Dodgers will never have to lose three in a row again.

Game 99 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Blake -- 1
Manny -- 1
McDonald -- 1

Game 99 Unfair Win Shares ( Cardinals )

Derosa -- 1
Ankiel -- 1
Carpenter -- 1

27 July 2009

Number Five Is Not Alive

I don't think it matters that much who the Dodgers' fifth starter is. If they make the playoffs he's the guy who doesn't matter. He becomes a long man in the 'pen if he even makes the postseason roster at all. Kershaw, Billingsley, Wolf, Kuroda. That would be the Dodger postseason rotation. I think it would be pretty good. It could be better. I do sometimes daydream about Halladay, which is harmless fun as long as it doesn't turn into a nightmare in which Kershaw leaves. Teams have won it all with worse postseason rotations than that. As long as no one gets hurt I don't worry about the pitching too much.

I think Schmidt is done. In truth he was done two years ago. His comeback this year never had a chance. His arm is gone. The speed and command are gone. But I don't think we knew that for sure until now. Maybe we still don't know that for sure, but I think the burden of proof is with the Schmidt believers now. Are there any left? What could you possibly point to in defense of him, besides the hopeful idea that he might do better next time?

Maybe before this season there was a 5% chance that Schmidt could come back and be an effective pitcher. And that 5% was enough to justify his two starts for a team well ahead of the competition. But now it's down to 1%. And that 1% isn't high enough to justify anything. Not with the Dodgers. Too bad. I wanted him to succeed. I don't care about the contract anymore. I just wanted to see the guy do well. But now, well, I would say this to Schmidt if I was the Dodgers: you don't have to leave baseball, in fact you shouldn't give up and leave baseball, but you can't stay here. Is that mean? Hell, yeah. But far meaner is keeping Stults down when he's so much more deserving of a roster spot right now. They can hand him his huge check when they tell Schmidt to get lost. That should take some of the sting out of it. ( Did I say I don't care about the contract? Maybe I should say I try not to care, but sometimes I can't resist a little jab over it. )

The Dodgers won the on-base battle again yesterday, 18-17, if I've added in all the hit batters correctly. What a wild mess, I hear. Yeah, I didn't see it. Didn't see the almost-comeback. I would have loved to see that, just to savor having Kemp up as the tying run after they were down 8-0. It's not that I thought a comeback was impossible, it's just that time is precious and sometimes I have to decide to cut loose a game that is very nearly a lost cause. Sure, there is a 2% chance of an amazing comeback, but there is a 100% chance that the fence in back needs building.

Game 98 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Schmidt -- 2
Weaver -- 1

Schmidt was the most costly pitcher, but Weaver's poor outing was more disappointing. That four run deficit was reachable for the Dodgers, but eight was a bit much.

GAme 98 Unfair Win Shares ( Marlins )

Ramirez -- 1
Baker -- 1
Uggla -- 1

Coghlan, Cantu and Uggla all have an identical box score of 2-5 with a run and an RBI. How the heck do I break that tie for the last unfair win share? I gave it to Uggla because he hit a home run and because his name means "owl". I think that if every player's name was Sweedish then Vinny would have taught all of us how to speak Sweedish by now.

26 July 2009

The Magic is Back

Why not? I was feeling mighty cranky about the thought of losing the first pair of the series to the Marlins, with Schmidt going today in an attempt to prevent a third loss in a row. All the little things were going wrong again, last night. Though five innings it seemed that the Dodgers were supposed to lose that game. And then the magic came back.

Or maybe it's just that the Dodgers are a good team. A really good team, who puts pressure on the opposition more innings than not with a flood of base runners. A great team, at times, who limits the opposition to just a dribble of men on base. The Dodgers put 18 men on base, and limited the Marlins to 8. Given that the final score was just 4-3, it would seem that all the magic belonged to the Marlins, in fact. The Dodgers lost runners to a double play and a botched hit and run and a great throw behind the runner on a single. They wasted two opportunities when Kuroda reached safely.

The Dodger magic is that they get on base so much more than their opponents. On the season, they lead their opponents in OBP 0.352 to 0.315. Remember back in June, when I said the magic was gone? The Dodger offense slumped to a 0.302 OBP that month, against 0.298 for the opposition. Now, in July, the Dodgers are back to a large OBP advantage of 0.359 to 0.307. Walk-off wins are what we remember, but it's all the grunt work of getting on base that makes the magic possible.

Friday night's series opener:

Game 96 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Troncoso -- 1
Hudson -- 1
Blake -- 1

Both Blake and Hudson had a hit and scored, and Blake's hit was a triple, so his share seems especially harsh. After his triple, Blake grounded into a double play, struck out with the go-ahead run at second, and flied out with runners on second and third. That was harsh too. Hudson, of course, had his mysteriously urgent throw toward the general vicinity of third base that allowed an extra run to come in. Poor Troncoso just happened to be the worst offender on an off-night for the bullpen.

Game 96 Unfair Win Shares ( Marlins )

Helms -- 1
Bonifacio -- 1
Johnson -- 1

Last night's game:

Game 97 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 1
Furcal -- 1
Mota -- 1

Starting rallies is nearly as important as ending them, isn't it? You can't end what you didn't start, unless you hit a home run, I suppose. But Blake didn't hit a home run to end that game. He hit a shallow fly that fell in between three fielders. The hit was unimpressive but the effort was very impressive, after he fell behind 0-2 on two questionable calls by the umpire. I loved that at bat by Blake, the way he resisted the strikeout, worked the count back to 2-2, and then gave him and his team a chance by getting the bat on the ball. Sometimes that's all you need. And I'd like to give him an unfair win share for it, but Furcal started two rallies, including that last one with a fabulous bunt hit that was nearly a mirror image of Blake's. With Blake's looping airborne hit three players converged but none could field the ball, while with Furcal's bunt three players converged, and all could have fielded it, but there was no one to take a throw at first. Even if there had been a player there to take the throw I don't think it would have mattered. Furcal had it beat.

Game 97 Unfair Loss Shares ( Marlins )

Coghlan -- 1
Uggla -- 1
Pinto -- 1

23 July 2009

50000 Bobbleheads and 1 Grand Slam Ball

Manny's pinch hit souvenir slam is the story and the memory. It was more anticipation and adulation than action. He came out to a thunderous roar, then retreated during a pitching change, then came back out to another thunderous roar, then smashed the first pitch he saw into Mannywood, then took a curtain call, then another after the inning was over. He turned the entire stadium into Mannywood. So much cheering for one brief moment. But what a moment.

Wouldn't it have been the coolest thing ever if Pierre, coming up right after Manny, had slammed the first pitch he saw for a home run? It would have been something, to follow up that grand slam with the most surprising thing that could possibly happen, while the crowd was still going crazy.

Billingsley's start was the story before the game, even if it wasn't after. He did fine, not great, I suppose. His start last night affirms that it was right not to panic after his previous terrible start, but it doesn't conclusively say that he's back to being the great pitcher we saw at the start of the season. We'll just see what he has next time.

Game 95 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Billingsley -- 1
Ethier -- 1

It wasn't just Manny. Ethier scored the first two runs back when it was a tight contest. Billingsley kept the Dodgers in the game against a good pitcher. And then when Arroyo faltered in the sixth by loading the bases, Manny finished off the Reds.

Game 95 Unfair Loss Shares ( Reds )

Arroyo -- 1
Masset -- 1
Nix -- 1

22 July 2009

The Giants Are Not a Good Team

They're 7 games above 0.500, and have outscored their opposition by 27 runs. They're one game back in the wild card race. They even have an outside shot of catching the Dodgers in the standings, if the Dodgers collapse down the stretch. Nevertheless, the Giants are not a good team.

Their pitching is tremendous. It's probably better than the Dodger pitching is. The Dodger are ahead in ERA, but the Giants are ahead in ERA+. The only problem is that their hitting is just as bad as their pitching is good.

Look at this:

---- Giants -- Opposition
OBP -- 0.308 -- 0.315
SLG -- 0.385 -- 0.378

Even with their great pitching staff the Giants are getting beat in on-base percentage. They come out slightly ahead in slugging. The Giants hit like they have to face their own pitchers every game. They might end the season as a good team if they find some offense somewhere, in a trade or in some hot months from some regulars, but so far they're a winning team with a modestly positive run differential based mostly on doing so much better with runners in scoring position and two outs ( 0.791 v 0.653 OPS ). If I was a Giants fan I would probably think this was a sustainable result based on my team having so much heart ( especially panda heart ), but as a fan of another team I know a lucky, unsustainable result when I see one.

It's even more clear the Giants have the best pitching in the National League when you remember that the Dodger pitchers have the advantage of feasting on the Giants terrible hitting while the Giants have to face the Dodger juggernaut. Too bad for Giants fans that baseball isn't really 90% pitching. Favor the Rockies in the wild card race. The Rockies have a pretty good staff themselves, and they also have a functional offense.

And now, some unfair win shares.

Game 94 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Wolf -- 1
Kemp -- 1
Furcal -- 1

Furcal scored the first run and later piled up 4 runs batted in, while Kemp hit a two-run home run when the game was still close. Loney and Manny have good cases but they can't crack the top 3.

Game 94 Unfair Loss Shares ( Reds )

Bailey -- 3

That was really easy.

21 July 2009

So, Can He Make It "Dodgers Triumphant"?

The Reds got further and further away from hitting a home run as the top of the first inning unfolded. Progress, I guess?

Taveras came as close as you'll ever see, blasting a ball off the top edge of the wall. Then Hairston hit the base of the short fence in left --- close, but not as close. Then Votto cranked a ball off the right field wall for an unlikely single. Then, finally, Schmidt allowed a deep fly ball that didn't hit the wall on the fly, when Phillips hit a deep fly to right and Ethier lost it in the sunset sky. Then Nix hit a regular fly ball that didn't come close to being a home run. The fans went wild.

The relevant stats for Schmidt: 5 innings, 3 runs allowed, 86 mph top speed fastball ( more or less ), 2 times on the ropes with 'pen warming up back of him, 10 fly balls ( hits and outs ), 4 pop ups, 1 line drive, 2 ground balls, 2 strike outs, 3 walks, 1 hit batter.

That's not good enough. Oh sure, the runs allowed and innings pitched were just barely good enough for this one game, but the rest of it isn't. If that game is a true representation of what Schmidt is now, then the Dodgers can probably do better. Stults is healthy again, and pitching in AAA. ( Odd fact: Stults has precisely the same ERA in AAA and MLB this year, at 4.80 ) McDonald might deserve a second look as a starter. What about Elbert? He's been starting for years in the minor leagues.

But Schmidt will get another chance. That's okay, that's fair, but I don't expect much good to come out of it. Prove me wrong, Schmidt. I am rooting for you. Really, I am. ( Do I protest too much? ) But if this is his top fastball speed, he's going to have to show exquisite command if he's going to be anything more than a dogmeat fifth starter. He's going to have to laser his fastball on the outside corner every time. Throw his curveball for strikes. I don't know if he can do that. Next time the pitcher he's up against may be better. Next time some of those deep fly balls may sail for home runs. We shall see.

Game 93 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 1
Manny -- 1
Blake -- 1

The pitchers got the job done in most innings, but this one was about the offense. I think the Dodgers striking back quickly for four in the first after the Red scored three had to help Schmidt at least a little bit. Manny, Ethier and Blake each picked up a pair of runs batted in.

Game 93 Unfair Loss Shares ( Reds )

Owings -- 2
Dickerson -- 1

Dickerson misplayed Ethier's double in the bottom of the first inning, and had earlier ended the Reds' threat in the top of the first inning, when Schmidt was really on the ropes. Owings is just lucky he doesn't get tagged with all three of the unfair loss shares. He is a known run-allower, especially this month, so I wasn't too worried even after Schmidt gave up three runs. The big question was not if the Dodgers could come back, but if Schmidt and the relievers could limit the runs allowed by enough to allow the comeback and victory.

20 July 2009

Series Half Full

There is an ancient cliche that the way we describe liquid in a glass is a window into the soul. So stale is the cliche that glass-half-full has become synonymous with optimism, and glass-half empty with pessimism. The thought experiment of how to describe the contents of the half-something glass has been short-circuited, and we leap right into the conclusion.

Tonight Jason Schmidt pitches, after several decades on the disabled list. ( "Decades" should be understood in the same spirit that "ancient" was meant in the first paragraph. ) Regarding his start tonight, I think I am a glass one quarter full guy. By which I mean, I think he'll struggle, but I believe he'll do well. I cannot, alas, put it any plainer than that.

The just concluded series with the Astros was split, two games apiece. I will propose a new and very briefly stimulating psychological parlor game to replace the worn out glass-half-something game. How do prefer to take your four game splits, when they happen? Do you want to win two, then lose two, so that you have the certainty of breaking even early, and then gathering disappointment that breaking even is all you do late? Or the opposite, as the Dodgers did this past weekend, when to panicky fans such as myself it seemed after two losses that the sky was falling only to be saved by two wins late to salvage the split? What would these preferences tell you about a person? Maybe the win two, lose two person is afraid of failure, and the lose two, then win two person and addicted to dangerous living. The possibilities for dime-store psychology seem limitless. Which way would you pick to split the four game series?

Think about that, while I take care of the game 91 unfair shares from this past Saturday.

Game 91 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kershaw -- 2
Hudson -- 1

After Kershaw left the game the relief pitching was very shaky. I am sure there were things about his start that could be criticized, but that seems kind of foolish when you look at what all the Dodger relievers did in that game, and what the other Dodger starters have been doing since the break. Hudson benefits from a terrible play by Lee in left field that turned into a triple. Watching in the park I thought Lee could get to it, but at the very least he should have stopped it. Classic case of being caught in between.

Game 91 Unfair Loss Shares ( Astros )

Rodriguez -- 1
Hampton -- 2

I think very few in the park had any idea what happened when Hampton accidentally tossed the ball away in anger and Kemp came in to score. I didn't really have my eye on where the ball was at that point because, well, the play was over, right? Too busy cheering and soaking up the general good vibe in the park when suddenly Kemp just takes off for home. At first I thought he had lost his mind! So Hampton gets two well-deserved unfair loss shares and Ivan Rodriguez gets the last for striking out with the bases loaded and a very iffy and wild Broxton on the mound. It's harsh, but the game was on the line and he failed. What a relief that was when he did!

Back to the series split and how I'd like it to go if I had a choice. I think I'd like to win the middle two games. That way you get the feeling of coming back ( game 2 win ) and the feeling of being ahead ( after game 3 win ) all in the same series. The game 4 loss when the series could have been won will hurt but at least it's just an isolated defeat.

What does it mean that I would prefer that kind of four game series split? I have no idea.

Kershaw Countdown

Let's have a look at some numbers from Kershaw's Saturday box score, counting down from 103 to the number that trumps them all.

103 -- pitches made

There was little question that he would throw about 100 pitches on Saturday, and that through most of them he would be effective. The question was, how far would those 100 pitches take him?

66 -- strikes thrown

They keep track of pitches thrown and strikes thrown at Dodger Stadium, which is very handy, especially when Kershaw is pitching. He was above 67% strikes for most of the game, only faltering a bit late. Early on when it looked like he might struggle to even go six innings Kershaw's big pitch totals didn't come from balls but from too many foul balls.

7 -- innings pitched

This is the number that impresses the most. I didn't think he would make it to seven for most of the night. A fifth inning double play really helped him.

5 -- strike outs

Only five. An off-game for Kershaw? God help the National League hitters if that was an off-game.

2.95 -- earned run average

Below three. Appropriate, since right now Dodger fans <3 Kershaw.

2 -- hits

And at least 4 line outs. You can certainly say that Kershaw was lucky, but not that he was lucky to do well. Why? See the next number.

1 -- walk

This is why Kershaw could have seen some of those line drives fall in and still succeed. Even if he allows 6 hits instead of 2, that's just 7 base runners spread through six or seven innings. ( He probably couldn't have gone seven if those hits had fallen in and he had to pitch to all those extra batters. ) Right now Kershaw has a margin of error to walk hitters because he's so unhittable --- but if he can stop walking hitters, then he has a margin for error in hits falling in. And if he's both unhittable and throwing strikes? What then?

0 -- runs allowed

A brief detour down to zero, before he head on back up to another way of saying "one" to finish the countdown. Kershaw had allowed zero runs in 5 of his last 7 starts.

Ace -- Kershaw's status

Ladies and gentlemen, your pitching ace of the 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers, Mr. Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Last Things First

I was at Saturday's game, and there is much to say about it, much that I will say, but that game is two days past now, and maybe I have missed the window of relevance. If this was football, a game just two days past would still vibrate with importance, but here in baseball that game is nearly lost, crowded out by the game yesterday and the game yet to come today. But there was Kershaw's performance, brilliant and vexing and encouraging and lucky, but mostly brilliant, and the relevance of that has not dimmed, and there is also Broxton's finishing turn on Saturday, and the contrast to what he did yesterday. So that will come, but first, the old man and the Bison.

It was a grim day offensively for more than half of the Dodger lineup. Furcal, Hudson, Blake, and Loney all went hitless and walkless. Manny was hitless but had two walks. The Dodgers collected 8 hits, all by Ethier, Kemp and old man Ausmus. The benefit of two of Ethier's singles were erased by Loney double play grounders. Kemp scored 4 times, twice on Ausmus doubles, once under his own awesome power, and once after a series of pratfalls by relief pitcher Arias. The day belonged to Kemp, who excelled as a de facto lead off hitter, reaching first base every time he lead off an inning. The one time he did not lead off an inning he hit a home run.

I remember all the strikeouts. Curveballs down and away, chased. I remember failure with the bases loaded, time after time. I remember all those baserunning blunders, and how they did not die, but instead shambled and jerked awake into a new and unnatural life, reanimated after being struck by media lightning. Even if dismissed, even if patience and perspective was preached, it was impossible to not be aware of all of Matt Kemp's failings, of all the ways he still wasn't quite measuring up to what he might be. And yet patience was the test all along. Patience was the salvation for both us and Kemp. We should not have given up or despaired that he would ever become a star any more than he should have swung at those off-speed pitches low and away. Kemp could not have hit his home run yesterday on any previous pitch of that eighth inning at bat. That home run was Hawkins' fault --- it was a terrible pitch --- but Kemp had to wait and wait to allow him to be at fault. Four foul-offs, three balls taken. On the eighth pitch, the brightest star on the Dodgers shined again.

Game 92 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Ausmus -- 1
Mota -- 1

Game 92 Unfair Loss Shares ( Astros )

Arias -- 1
Hawkins -- 1
Tejada -- 1

18 July 2009

The Ocean

One performance means as much as any other. A true evaluation requires separation from the event and the exercise of cold-minded regularity.

One performance means as little as any other, as well. To say, right now, the Chad Billingsley is struggling is a truth, if the concept of "now" is understood in sufficiently abstract fashion. Because right now, literally right now, Billingsley is not pitching, and so he cannot be struggling. Perhaps he is struggling as he tries to open a pickle jar, or perhaps he has fallen again, as he did this offseason, and has broken a leg, and is struggling to get up, or struggling to understand how it could happen again. Leaving these alternatively comical and grim hypotheticals aside, it is clear that Billingsley is not struggling now. He has struggled. Not anymore. Now he rests. He may yet struggle again. We do not know.

If that 6 run, 1.2 inning start he made last night was instead a month ago it would be buried in my memory, only recalled if I wondered how his ERA could be so high, at 3.76. Instead, that terrible start is huge, overinflated, a half pound balloon in the room, a thing that requires explanation. Why is it here? How did it happen? Or perhaps it can just be popped. Make statements that are like needles, direct and pointed, narrowly wishful. That start didn't matter. He gobbled a bad burrito. He was thrown off by the All-Star Break. He was hurt.

But that would matter, if he was hurt. There is no evidence for that, unless worry and speculation are evidence. I read the stories on dodgers.com, looking for hints, signs. There were none. I still wonder. Maybe I should not. There are times when speculation is the devil's playground. It is so seductive to fixate on an explanation that will drive out uncertainty.

A month from now that start last night will be a month ago. That is the perspective I seek. When it can be seen alongside all the other starts, no more important, no less important. One of many. Every start counts, but no start defines. Hershiser did not pitch 59 scoreless innings in a day. Valenzuela did not write the ballad of Fernando in a day. The rise and fall of legends is spread across the warm evenings of summer. Each summer eve the breeze comes off the ocean, varying, sometimes strong and cool, other times nearly still. The players vary like the breeze. And too, each player is an ocean. Vast, accepting no explanations. Billingsley is caught in low tide. More than that we cannot know.

Game 90 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Billingsley -- 3

Unfair Win Shares ( Astros )

Oswalt -- 2
Rodriguez -- 1

17 July 2009

Now Pitching, Rudy Chaos

Broxton is out. Belisario is out. Wade is out. Elbert and Vargas are in. Mota is way in. What is the story here? Who makes the rules? Who reads the sky? Take your angle and frame it. Torre overuses bullpen; injury and disaster follow. Write it down and then cross it out. Torre overuses bullpen; injury and disaster follow. Do you know that? Do you think you know that? There is already too much hubris in this world. It's hard to know what's really happened. Be careful. It's hard to know what will happen. Really, be careful. To all of us: Torre, and me, and you. Have care with conclusions and relievers both.

You just never know with these guys. Every year it's different, which means every year it's the same. Chaotic sameness. Change is everywhere. There are new faces. Surprises. Injuries. Meltdowns. They come out of nowhere. Return back into nowhere. Dance into and out of nowhere like a virtual particle pair at the event horizon of the black hole. The bullpen is the black hole.

Remember Rudy Seanez? No? Barely? Kind of? Which Rudy do you remember? He was good in '94. Then terrible in '95. And then he was gone. Beyond the Dodger Blue event horizon. And then 12 years later he was back, in ought-seven, the year of the great collapse down the stretch. He was okay that year. In between, he played for six different teams, including twice for the Padres and Red Sox. He was out of major league baseball in '96 and '97. He also played with the Padres before his first Dodger stint. That's chaos. That's relief pitching.

You just never know with these guys. I'll say it a third time if I have to. Every month it's different. Look at this, look at what I said back in April and May about one of the Dodger bullpen constants of June and July:

April 23 --- Signing him was just an awful move by Colletti, in the same category as the Pierre signing because the upside just wasn't there. It was wasted money the moment the contract was signed.

April 29 --- Colletti made that mistake, and it is done. I think it's time to start looking for a replacement for Mota. Every other reliever has some promise, and shouldn't be given up on yet. But Mota is awful and what reason is there to think he'll improve?

May 27 --- And yet even there none of them save for Mota are truly hopeless.

May 28 --- At the very least I don't expect to see Mota last the year with the team.

Look at those conclusions I made. I believed it. Of course I did. I was sure. I was as sure as Broxton was sure up until he wasn't sure anymore. Things change so fast.

How bad is it now? How much do we fear the 'pen now? I take it an inning at a time. Most of these guys pitch just an inning. Most of them will pitch a scoreless inning more often than not. Really, even the bad ones, with an ERA of 5. I just hope for outs, and then get the next guy in there. Things aren't so bad now, even with all the injuries and uncertainty. It could be worse. We could have Carter and Hamulack and Baez in the 'pen.

Game 89 Unfair Loss Shares

The game happens in the outside world, but the story of the game is told from the inner world. The story I hear is told by me, instinctively, from my own perception and bias. When Andre Ethier grounds into a double play and the last real chance at the game disappears, it is his failure, and my reaction is lament. I do not receive it as the triumph of the pitcher. It is framed in my mind as a moment of Ethier, a moment when he alone strove and failed.

To be a fan is to invest oneself in victory for the chosen side, but there is more. The fan restricts his vision to his own team. The other teams, the opponents, are not invested with the same reality. In my mind the Dodger players are the agents of choice, the movers, determining the destiny of each game. Often the other team is barely acknowledged.

They were too good, we sometimes say, after defeat for our chosen ones. Is this a grudging admission, a lifting of the veil to briefly reveal the truth that both teams are equal strivers, identical in will and influence, if not identical in talent and ability? It might be, or it might be a something else, the lie of the wall. Each team is a wall, to be scaled, or not. Some walls are higher than others. Some are challenging obstacles, and against some defeat is nearly inconceivable. But they are what they are, fixed, and it is only our team that strives, that moves. Sometimes, when we say that the other team was too good, we are just saying that the wall was too high. But what if the Dodgers are the wall, and the other team are the strivers?

If that was so, then what kind of wall are the Dodgers? What striving did the Astros have to do to climb over them? The Dodgers must be a tall and treacherous wall. Even in defeat the Dodgers produced 11 baserunners, to 10 for the Astros. It was not an easy victory for the Astros. Maybe, after that game, this is my consolation, to think of the Dodgers as not the strivers, but as the unmoving object, as a difficult and treacherous wall to climb. Oh yes, the Astros made it over them once, but they still loom, still daunt, for the next three days. What a challenge they present! No one has ever scaled them three days in a row.

Unfair Win Shares ( Astros )

Quintero -- 1
Arias -- 1
Rodriguez -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Ethier -- 1
Wolf -- 1
Kemp -- 1

15 July 2009

All-Star Rage

I was as angry as I have ever been at the result of a game last night after the National League lost 4-3 to the American League.


It's hard to understand. I didn't even watch the first four innings. The All-Star game is not an event I look forward to. It seems more and more irrelevant each year. I'm ashamed that I would get so angry at the result of any game, let alone an All-Star game. And yet, when Tejada popped out to end the game, I was seething.

Why is it hard to understand? I wonder that, when I think of all the horrible, annoying things that have led up to the game, and that happened during the game. The American League's dominance. The Dodgers never getting to host a game since 1980. Charlie Manuel managing the team and stacking it with Phillies. Kemp not making the team. Fox doing a terrible, awful job of presenting the game. Interviews with players while the game is going on. The insistence on singing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch. Tim McCarver. Joe Buck. Billingsley giving up a run. Mariano Rivera getting the save. Ryan Howard coming to the plate and striking out, and knowing it would happen because while he may be a productive hitter he can't hit good pitching to save his life, and the indignity of having to root for the overrated strikeout machine Phillie. Home field advantage being determined by the game.

That's the one. That's the one that has me so angry. Now look, I'm not assuming anything. Okay? I'm not assuming the Dodgers make the World Series; I'm not even assuming they make the playoffs. But if the Dodgers make the World Series, then they will have lost home field advantage through little fault of their own. See, if the Dodgers don't make the playoffs, or they don't advance past the first or second round, or if they enter the first or second round without home-field advantage, it will have been their fault. It will have been based on their play, their own failure in the field. But the World Series? It may be a relatively small thing, but if the Dodgers make the World Series they won't have home field advantage because of Ryan Howard and Heath Bell and Charlie Manuel.

What a thing. Why should Heath Bell have the power to alter the Dodgers destiny? Why? Why? For marketing. Because this time it counts.

Well, if it counted, why was Ryan Howard up there to strike out with the game on the line? If the National League was really trying their best to win, wouldn't Manny Ramirez have been named to the team? The problem with saying that "this time it counts" is that they don't construct the teams or manage the game as if it counts.

13 July 2009

Weekender Unfair Shares

Game 87 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Weaver -- 1
Martin -- 1
Hudson -- 1

The Dodgers had a routine loss on Saturday. Bullpen swingman Weaver struggled against the tough Brewer lineup, and the Dodger offense had an off day with eight hits and no walks. This is one of those losses that should be quickly forgotten not because it was so excruciating but because there was really nothing to remember about it, except perhaps for the home runs Ethier and Furcal hit. Ethier's power surge and Furcal's overall resurgence are two great signs heading into the second half.

Game 87 Unfair Win Shares ( Brewmasters )

Hardy -- 1
McClung -- 1
Fielder -- 1

The Brewer pitching only solved the Dodgers during one stretch in this series: during the second half of the middle game when their relievers shut down the Dodgers and preserved a win. McClung was the biggest 'pen hero, and Hardy kept the pressure off of Hoffman in the ninth with his two run double.

Game 88 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Manny -- 1
Hudson -- 1
Kershaw -- 1

No room for Loney and his two runs batted in, sadly, with Hudson's ambidextrous power display and Manny never making an out. Kershaw had another fine game, though he was aided by fortune a few times. Nevertheless, that was his fifth straight road win, and his fifth straight road start with at least six innings pitched.

It should be mentioned that if not for Kemp's nice catch and throw to end the sixth inning with a double play, Kershaw might not have been able to go six. All those walks don't leave him much room for error, and he may not always be so lucky. Still, he's 21, with an ERA of 3.16. Isn't complaining about walks kind of missing the point?

Game 88 Unfair Loss Shares ( Brewers )

Gallardo -- 1
Braun -- 1
Cameron -- 1

Gallardo gave up five runs in five innings, and Braun went 0-5 with a pop out to end the game as the possible tying run, so they are easy choices. But what about Cameron? He had a double that led to a run scored, and later hit a sacrifice fly. Why do I pick on him?

He gets the unfair loss share because he failed in the key moment of the game for the Brewers. Kershaw was wild in the first inning, walking the bases loaded after a double by Cory Hart. Cameron came up with two outs. The count went full. And Cameron then swung at ball four and struck out. If Cameron had taken that pitch? Kershaw would at least have given up one run, and even if he recovered and gave up no more runs in that inning he likely wouldn't have made it through six. The Dodger 'pen would have been called in earlier, and maybe the Brewers could have completed their comeback against them.

Why did Cameron whiff in that crucial moment? What happened?

I don't know what happened inside Cameron's head, but I know what I feared most at that moment. It wasn't the walk, although I dreaded that too. It was that Kershaw would throw a fastball right down the heart of the plate, and that Cameron, a known fastball hitter, would crush it, for a homerun, or at least a bases-clearing double. Maybe Cameron was thinking the same thing. My fear, his hope, and in the end, both foiled by Kershaw's weakness, a ball outside of the strike zone. For one pitch, it was a strength.

11 July 2009

The All-World Star: Game 86 Unfair Win Shares

Full of surprises, this one.

The home runs don't surprise. Not anymore. Not when that was what first got our attention, back in the summer of 2006. The home runs did surprise back then, when his sudden home run barrage of the first half of June made us all take notice and thrust him to the top of a Dodger prospect list loaded with great names like Billingsley and Broxton and Guzman. Seven home run in 14 days. Seven home runs in 11 games. The Bison had charged into the baseball universe. There were whispers of Pedro 85, a new June of power to remember, but then the pitchers figured him out, that he couldn't hit the breaking stuff, that he would go chasing low and away, and the home runs were gone, dried up, disintegrated in the wind. He went from being a regular in the outfield to being a hemi-regular to being sent back to the minors. He never did get past 7 home runs. But we knew he'd be back. The raw talent was there.

And yet I don't think I ever imagined anything quite like this back in 2006, when I imagined what kind of player Matt Kemp would be in the future. I didn't think he would become of all things a bunting savant, able now to lay a perfect bunt down the third base line that you couldn't roll any better, as he did, perhaps unwisely, but certainly spectacularly and surprisingly last night. We always thought he could become a great outfielder, or at least a good one, but that seemed far away in 2007, when his routes to fly balls frequently dismayed. He was stuck out of position in right field back then, blocked by Pierre in center. In April of that year he was injured by the infamous outfield scoreboard, and didn't make it back until June, when he had to battle Ethier and occasionally Luis Gonzalez for playing time. By the end of the year he was starting at least 2 out of 3 games, and hitting above 0.340, but no one ever would have said that he just had to be in center field to anchor the Dodger outfield defense, as we would now. He never even got to play there.

In 2008 the battle for playing time continued, but Kemp was winning more and more often, especially as the season progressed. Eventually Andruw Jones was exposed as terrible, and Pierre faded from must-play status. By the time Manny came to the Dodgers the Jones experience was over and Kemp was the regular center fielder. I don't remember marveling over his defense last year, but I also don't remember being dismayed over it. His batting average fell from what it was in 2007, but that was to be expected. He was a solid, not great hitter. He started drawing more walks. He displayed modest power. He was a solid player, not an all-star, maybe a minor star, surely a star in waiting. Little did we know. It was countdown to supernova.

We've gotten used to defensive brilliance from Kemp this year, but what he did in the tenth inning last night was something else again. That basket catch with his back to the flight of the ball was his announcement that indeed he is an All-Star. He doesn't need Charlie Manuel's validation. He knows it, and now everyone else knows it. That catch, and the subsequent leap against the wall in exhuberation were his promise to the baseball world.

He's just getting started.

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kemp -- 1
Martin -- 1
Mota -- 1

So many candidates in this one. Troncoso and Manny and especially Loretta were tough omissions. Even Blake has a case. I'm not even sure if Kemp would have earned an unfair share, even with his grand slam, before the events of the bottom of the tenth, when his slam suddenly seemed much more important, and of course, that catch. I gave Martin one for his early home run and getting that crucial lead-off single against Hoffman. And Mota really saved the game in the sixth when he held the Brewers to just one run off of a bases loaded no outs situation. That was some clutch relief pitching.

Unfair Loss Shares ( Brewers )

Looper -- 1
Hoffman -- 1
Villanueva -- 1

Looper gave up 5 runs, Villanueva gave up 6, and Hoffman a mere 1, but Hoffman's run was the most damaging.

10 July 2009

Lineup Explosion! -- Game 85 Unfair Win Shares

1. Furcal -- Furcal scored 3 times, and was on base 4 times. The July anti-slump continues. If he can keep this up the rest of the year, we can merge Furcal's first half slump with his second half anti-slump and it will be as if Furcal never even played in 2009!

2. Ethier -- The first day of the Andre-protection program went well, as he had two hits and walk with Manny on deck. No, wait, the last hit came with Juan Pierre on deck. Did Pierre protect him?

3. Manny -- Have you ever seen the two guy? He's a lawyer by trade, a lover of twos by hobby. He's a duophile. His billboards used to be a common sight on the CA-99 between Fresno and Bakersfield. "Accidentes!" these billboards proclaimed at the top, below which was the smiling lawyer, holding up his phone number for all the world to see. 1-800-222-2222. Spectwocular. All twos. That was the two guy. If I ever get really rich, I'm going to buy that phone number for myself. Of course, I'll make sure it's unlisted so I don't get crank calls.

Anyway, yesterday Manny was the two guy. He went 2-2, with 2 walks, 2 runs scored, 2 runs batted in.

4. Blake -- Blake was 2-5, with a run scored and a run driven in, but by the standards of yesterday's offensive explosion that was a below average game.

5. Loney -- I checked, and there is nothing interesting at all to say about Loney's game yesterday. Here is where the wise-ass says that it didn't stop me for the first four Dodgers in the lineup!

6. Martin -- Martin's on base percentage is 0.374. He may be a huge disappointment this year, but one thing he's not is a black hole in the lineup.

7. Hudson -- Hudson's box score line is among the least impressive from last night's game, but he had the biggest hit of the game, even if he was very slightly aided by Evans' incompetence in the outfield.

8. Kemp -- Matty-boy is still batting eighth. Regarding this baffling and unpleasant subject there is a get-it-out-of-your-brain-and-then-never-again-complain session going on at Dodger Thoughts. Afterward all the comments will be burned and the ashes will be sprinkled into Joe Torre's Bigelow tea, as a sort of folk cure for his batting-the-BIG-kEmp-LOW affliction. ( See, it's obvious that the tea is subliminally affecting him --- Torre needs to start drinking Bisonforth tea. )

9. Wolf -- Wolf's record of 4-3 after last night's win matches his uniform number. If he wants his number to continue matching his number, he'll have to lose his next start, since 53 is unavailable. That was Don Drysdale's number which was retired in 1984. Since then it has been a thoughtcrime to even think about wearing 53. So don't think about it, Wolf!

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Wolf -- 1
Manny -- 1
Hudson -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Metropolitans )

Evans -- 1
Hernandez -- 2

09 July 2009

The Advocate and I: Game 84 Unfair Loss Shares

Life is unfair. Baseball is unfair. Everything we do is unfair. Fairness has no chance against reality. This is the lesson the advocate must learn.

The first name I call is Casey Blake.

"Please", says the advocate for Blake. "Be fair. Be reasonable. My client walked four times. No Dodger got on base more often."

"And so?" says I. "He never scored. He never drove in a run. The Dodgers were adrift, and he did not paddle. He just rode on the raft."

The advocate stammers. "I -- I don't know what that means, and it's not his fault he didn't score."

"He might have hit a home run." The unfairness of my demand silences the advocate. How can you argue against such reckless expectations? We both know the reason, anyway. We both know why Blake is doomed. It has nothing to do with walks or home runs. Neither of us will say it. Third inning, Mets batting, one out, runners on first and second. Sharp ground ball to Blake's left, and they have a name for this kind of ground ball: 5-4-3 DP. Instead, the opposite of DP happens. What's the opposite of DP? PD. Pants Dropped. Blake let the ball go by, and he couldn't have been more embarrassed if his pants had dropped around his ankles. Two more runs scored because of his pants dropping moment.

The next name I call is The Rookie Kuroda.

"Hiroki Kuroda" corrects the advocate. He's cranky now, after he read my official summary where I referred to Blake's error as a pants drop.

"It's a little joke I have, because his first name sounds like 'the rookie' if you kind of say it slightly wrong. He certainly pitched like a rookie last night."

"He would have done better if not for Blake's error. He would have done better if all those ground balls hadn't found holes."

"He would have done better if he hadn't allowed so many doubles," says I. "The error had nothing to do with him loading the bases with no outs in the fifth inning. Kuroda was bad when he was unlucky and he was bad when he wasn't unlucky."

The advocate has nothing else to say. He knows the case for Kuroda is very thin. He's still upset about Blake.

The last name I call is Andre Ethier.

"What is the point," says the advocate. "You've already made up your mind. If you wouldn't have leniency on Blake, what chance does Ethier have?"

"He had his chance," I say, my outrage gathering. It is not outrage against Ethier, but against what the advocate is saying. "You use the wrong tense. Ethier has no chance now. It is done. He had his chance then."

"He lined out with the bases loaded," protests the advocate feebly. "If not for that ..."

"You are fading, advocate, because you know how the world works, and the assumptions behind your arguments are childish lies." I have an arrogant gleam in my eye as I speak now. "If Ethier's line drive had gone past Wright's glove, then he would not be in peril. It was caught, to his misfortune, to the Dodgers' misfortune, and yet he still had his chance. He had his chance, with the tying run on second, and go-ahead run on first, with one out in the ninth inning. Matt Kemp was on deck. Matt Kemp is still on deck. Waiting for that at bat, that chance. It will never come. The result is final. My judgment is final."

Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Blake -- 1
Kuroda -- 1
Ethier -- 1

Unfair Win Shares ( Mets )

Parnell -- 1
Wright -- 1
Reed -- 1

08 July 2009

Mostly About Kershaw: Game 83 Unfair Win Shares

Does Matt Kemp lead the major leagues in outfield assists? Almost, but no. Kemp has 9 assists. Jay Bruce of the Reds has 10.

Kershaw has been amazing lately, but I have had two worries about him. First, that he might be a home park pitcher who struggles on the road, and second, that he doesn't go deep enough into games. Regarding the first point, Kershaw still has a pronounced home/road ERA split of 1.85 vs 4.80, but I don't think it's a big deal at this point. Kershaw had very bad starts in Houston and Colorado early in the season, followed by a poor start in Philadelphia. Since then, though, he's been great on the road, pitching gems in Miami, Anaheim and New York City, and pitching a solid game in Denver that in context could probably be called a gem as well.

In fact, if anything Kershaw's home/road performance has reversed over the last month and a half. In his last four road starts he's gone 6 innings twice and 7 innings twice, while he's reached 6 innings only once in his last 6 home starts. Weird, yeah? I don't know that it means much, though. With home/road splits I think one needs to wait at least a season, and then another season, before making firm conclusions. And then be ready to revise those conclusions after the third season.

There is another Minotaurean split that is worth more scrutiny, though. That's the difference in Kershaw's performance against right handed batters and left handed batters.

Kershaw just destroys lefty hitters. They have a batting average of 0.175 against him, with an OPS of 0.476. Righty hitters fare better, but not by a lot --- they are batting 0.214 against with a 0.668 OPS. This split, by itself, is not surprising. A southpaw should do better against left-handed hitters than against right handed hitters.

What's really interesting is his walk rate against each kind of hitter. Kershaw walks 7% of lefty batters he sees, which is good, and 16% of righty batters he sees, which is not good. Since opposing teams tend to stack their lineups with right-handed hitters against Kershaw, that 16% is the important ratio, and results in Kershaw walking an awful lot of the hitters he faces, which surprisingly doesn't often lead to runs being scored, but does lead to him using a lot of pitches and leaving games earlier than we'd like.

To me this is really fascinating, though, because I think it shows that Kershaw can have a low walk rate. It's not just intrinsic wildness. He is perfectly accurate against lefty batters. If he could just pitch to righty hitters the way he pitches to the lefties ...

Well, maybe not. It's probably not that simple. Is Kershaw's relatively low batting average allowed to right handed batters a result of his extreme care with them? If he reduced the walks given up to righty hitters would the benefit be wiped out by a lot of extra hits being given up as well? I just don't know. I suppose a big part of this is his curveball, how it breaks to the different hitters, how easily he can locate it effectively in the strike zone against right vs left.

Clayton Kershaw gets compared with Sandy Koufax a lot, for a lot of obvious reasons. Kershaw's numbers this year against left-handed hitters are still a relatively small sample, but if you do take them at face value, then he's there, right there with Koufax in his prime, at least against left handed hitters. These are the left-handed hitters good enough not to be platooned out of the lineup, remember. Kershaw is dominating them just the way Koufax did in his prime. Against right handed batters, obviously, Kershaw still has plenty of work to justify any comparison with Koufax. He might never get there, but I think he will. He's only 21, and already this good.

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Kershaw -- 1
Kemp -- 1
Manny -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Mets )

Pelfrey -- 2
Wright -- 1

07 July 2009

Unicorn Uniform

Picture the Dodgers uniform, the road gray, script blue lettering on the front, large blue number on the back, smaller red number on the front, all tied together with a Dodger blue cap with the classic interlocked LA logo in white. The uniform is elegant and complete. A man wearing this uniform is a Dodger, at a glance.

Change the cap to red, and the LA logo to a mash of red and white and stars and blue, and the uniform is broken. Stick a horn on a horse, and the noble beast is gone, replaced by a garish fantasy creature. Make the Dodgers wear red caps, and they are the unicorn Dodgers.

How is gaudiness a tribute? Why would anyone think making the uniform ugly and jarring honored anyone? It's a sacrifice --- but a pointless one.

Bud Selig pays tribute with a sledgehammer. Everyone will wear 42. Everyone will wear a red cap for a day. No, everyone will wear a red cap for a whole series. Frank McCourt follows his lead. God Bless America, every game! Soon Bud will mandate that every team sings God Bless America in the seventh inning stretch, and that every team wears ugly camouflage jerseys on Sundays. For Commissar Bud there is nothing that can't be improved by making it everywhere and all the time. And if you want to pay tribute? Just stick a horn on it and call it majestic.

06 July 2009

The Juan Pierre Pity Party

I don't care so much if Matt Kemp makes the All-Star game. I really think he should, and I actually I really don't want to see him lose to any of the candidates in the fan vote, among them a spam-eating cry-baby diva jackass, an over-hyped strikeout machine Snake, and a Giant ( spit! ) with a cutesy nickname. But if he loses out I'll have forgotten about it a week later. It's an exhibition game. Who cares?

I care a lot more about Kemp's other battle, the one he's going to be waging most of the rest of the season, I fear. The battle to stay in center field.

Why would Kemp have to vacate center field? He's been great there defensively, after all, and with the bat he's been the Dodgers offensive MVP of the first half. So why? Why? Juan Pierre. Juan bleeping Pierre. And not because of any talent Pierre possesses, but because of a talent he doesn't possess.

When Pierre plays in place of Manny, there is no problem. Pierre slides into left field and Kemp stays in center. Given that Manny has only played in a third of the team's innings so far, maybe we can leave it at this. Pierre will get all the playing time he deserves, and more ( far more! ) just subbing for Manny. But let's be serious --- we know Manny is going to eventually get into playing shape ( or Torre will stop being so damn cautious ) and then Pierre will have to find more of his outfield innings at someone other player's expense.

That player will probably be Ethier, most of the time, and not Kemp. Ethier is batting 0.250, while both Pierre and Kemp are batting over 0.300. Never mind home runs or ability to wear a batting helmet without having to have a cap underneath it, even if that cap is red and the visual result is hideous and soul-crushing --- and never mind slugging percentage and career averages or anything else --- Pierre will have to play because he has a shiny batting average and he "makes things happen" and he's done everything the Dodgers have asked of him without complaining very much and he's a hard worker while Ethier is a lazy drug cheat --- er, wait, that's Manny, but Ethier will have to stand in for him because of course Manny has to play!

So, okay, Pierre is going to sub for Ethier way more than he should, and that is going to truly suck, but what does that have to do with Kemp? Well, you know what it has to do with Kemp, but I'm going to draw this out in agonizing description just so we can all see how stupid this is --- if Pierre subs in for Ethier then Kemp will have to move over and play right field, because why? Why? WHY? Because Pierre has an arm made of Nerf foam and he can't make the throws from right field, and left field is taken up by some guy with goofy Sideshow Bob hair who also happens to be an amazing hitter, so Pierre has to go into center, even though his arm really isn't strong enough for center field either. Really, it's not. He can't make the throws a center fielder needs to make. Let's not pretend he can. He can barely make the throws a left fielder needs to make. This is awful. Because of Pierre's limitations, Kemp has to move over if Ethier sits. Even if Pierre was marginally better than Ethier on offense ( and he's not ) you still wouldn't choose Pierre over Ethier because it will just cripple the team's outfield defense. It will destroy it.

And, of course, sometimes Pierre will start in place of Matt Kemp. Even though Kemp is better than Pierre offensively and defensively, without question. Does Kemp ever need a day off? Does he? He's not a catcher. He's a young star outfielder. Unless he gets injured, he needs at most three or four days off in the entire season. He probably doesn't need any days off. So why would you ever sit him? But it will happen, and not because Kemp needs the day off, but because Pierre needs to play. Why does Pierre need to play? Because we're throwing a pity party for him, and every terrible announcer from Fox Sports is invited.

Sideshow Manny

As I have previously stated, there are a lot of things I accept about Manny's return.

What I don't accept is that Manny can't play a full game, or that he already needs a day off. I accept that he's rusty, but I don't accept him being gassed after five and a half innings. Manny was suspended, not injured. He missed about two months of games, but nothing was stopping him from staying in playing shape during that time. He wasn't paid during the suspension ( his own damn fault ) but he knew he would be paid in full the moment his suspension ended, so he had a duty to be at full strength the moment his suspension ended. He even was given a week of rehab games to finish the job of getting back into playing shape. Was all the controversy over that for nothing?

This is ridiculous. I feel like one of those hack sportswriters getting all upset and high-horsey about the lazy crooked ballplayers of today, and I don't want to feel like that. I don't want to write this kind of stuff, but when Manny plays only 10 of 30 possible innings in the field I feel that I have no choice. It doesn't make sense to me. Someone has screwed up here. Maybe Manny is ready, and Torre is being way too cautious. I don't know. What I do know is that I saw way too much of Juan Pierre last weekend.

Manny was a sideshow in that series. He didn't really have any impact on the games, and that is not all his fault --- some of it is circumstance. But playing so little didn't help. It's almost like he was being paraded out, showcased, while the real game took place somewhere else. He goes 0-3 and the Dodgers win. He hits a home run and the Dodgers lose. Manny simply had zero effect on the series. His at bats were theater. At times it seemed like no one really cared about what he did at the plate. It was all about the reaction, the cheers, the boos, the signs.

Or were the Dodgers the sideshow, and Manny the main event? Do I have this all backwards?

Unfair Shares of the Red Cap Series

This was my least favorite series of the year, even though the Dodgers won two out of three. If the Dodgers ever get swept, then that series will become my least favorite, but for now this is it. I'll explain why I hated this series later, in a non-unfair shares post.

Game 80 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Mota -- 1
Furcal -- 1
Kemp -- 1

Game 80 Unfair Loss Shares ( Padres )

Gaudin -- 1
Kouzmanoff -- 1
Headley -- 1

Is Kuroda back at full strength yet? I guess he must be, but I keep thinking of him as a pitcher who just came back, and probably can't go deep into games too often. In fact he returned at the start of June, and Friday's Dodger win was his seventh start since returning. So he's been back for awhile. And he should be able to go deep into games. But he doesn't, not often. Kuroda had one start where he came within an out of a complete game, but otherwise he's been a five or six inning pitcher. Friday, too, Kuroda had to come out early, and the suddenly reliable Mota cleaned up his trouble. I don't feel very much alarm over the Dodger starters not going deep into games, I have to admit, but it would be nice if Kuroda could start to hit seven innings in at least half his starts. If a starter can go seven strong innings and hand off a lead to the bullpen, then either Belisario or Troncoso gets the day off. If the starter only goes six innings, they might both have to pitch, or Mota might have to get involved.

Game 81 Unfair Win Shares ( Padres )

Geer -- 1
Cabrera -- 1
Bell -- 1

Game 81 Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Blake -- 1
Belisario -- 1
Ethier -- 1

Belisario kicked off two days of reliable-reliever meltdowns by losing the game in the seventh inning. The Dodgers had a chance to tie the game in the eighth, but both Ethier and Blake stranded the tying run at second base against Heath Bell. Blake then made sure that the Dodgers would lose with his horrible throwing error in the bottom of the eighth.

Game 82 Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Billingsley -- 1
Weaver -- 1
Blake -- 1

Game 82 Unfair Loss Shares ( Padres )

Banks -- 1
Mujica -- 1
Eckstein -- 1

Broxton was very close to getting his first three unfair loss shares of the season all in one gulp, until Eliezer Alfonso saved him with his silly overslide of third base. But Broxton still would have been on the hook for at least two unfair loss shares if the Dodgers had gone on to lose in extra innings. Instead he was saved by Loney and Weaver. Usually hitting a game-winning home run will get you an unfair win share, but early game heroes Billingsley and Blake make it a battle for the last spot between Weaver and Loney, and I was just a little more impressed by what Weaver did. He got the win and the save, if you were allowed to award a save to a pitcher who also was the pitcher of record. I think a pitcher should be allowed to get a win and a save in the same game. Weaver earned the win by keeping the Padres from winning in the bottom of the eleventh and twelfth innings, and then he preserved the one run lead in the bottom of the thirteenth. Why should it matter that the same guy did both things? Give him credit for both.

04 July 2009


Why should I cheer for him? A walk? Okay, that's a good thing. That walk helped glue together that big inning --- without it, and many other clutch and fortunate moments, the Dodgers would have scored not at all. So yeah, that walk was good, made better by the circumstances, but that's all there was. The other three plate appearances were weak outs, and he was gone by the sixth inning. Replaced by a man who made a catch at the wall in the late innings when the game was still in doubt. Would he have made that catch? I don't know, that's getting to far into conjecture, and down that road lies only ruin, especially when it concerns him. So a walk, and 0-3 otherwise, barely an imprint on the game, really. So why should I cheer for him?

Because he came back. Yes, and so? His exile was of his own sour making. One cannot invoke misfortune, as of the player who is struck down by random injury, and one cannot invoke heroic redemption, as of the player who falls due to his own extraordinary efforts and then strives mightily to return. I find no cause to judge the man, or think poorly of him, even, but the exile and return must be characterized as it is. It is a suspension for wrongdoing, and he returns now because his suspension is served, and I will cheer when he does something great, and not one moment sooner. Manny must earn his adulation, and I have no doubt he will earn it, and I will give it without reservation, when the time comes. I have no patience for sentimentality or sanctimony, meaning: that I will not praise him just for showing up again in Dodger blue; and I will not curse him as a convenient vessel for all the anger and uncertainty we have over the era of performance enhancing drugs.

It is a different team now. Manny has been a comet through the Dodger firmament. Two months of glory in the heady days of first knowing Manny at the ascendant end of 2008, then a postseason of inflicted terror, then a tense spring of negotiation, a triumphant return, 21-8, and then --- silence. Half a year, half a season of games, and we hardly know him, but still we love him. He is an enigma now, and an enigma forever, I suppose. Manny being Manny, a statement which means nothing, or perhaps everything --- a zen koan for the modern age. And yet, for 50 games, he was Manny being nothing, he was an enigma wrapped in silence. The Dodgers were 29-21, still a good team, even a great team at times. In the words of Vinny, the game is larger than one man.

So much happened while you were gone, Manny. The season is more without him than with him. We got to know Juan Pierre again, as if for the first time. We would say, maybe, that he finally got off on the right foot with us, after two years of trying, and failing. In truth he is the same slap-hitting Juan Pierre we have always known, but for the that first month of base hits and RBIs he was there and Manny was not. That's really what it comes down to, for me, finally, after not thinking about it much for 50 games. You weren't there, Manny, and it's your own damn fault. I accept your punishment, and I accept your enigmatic apology, and I accept your return. I accept that there are things we will never know, about you and many other players of this age. I accept that you may struggle for a time. I accept your presence on the Dodgers, even though it may cause controversy and attacks from the moral guardians of the game. I accept all of it.

But I don't cheer any of it. I cheer for performance.

And isn't that the problem? Does that mean that I am cheering, however indirectly, for the use of the drugs that may enhance that performance? I don't know. This is an unsettling riddle that I cannot unravel. I think I have to accept that too.

02 July 2009

Pentastic --- Game 79 Unfair Win Shares

So what happened to the offense? Five runs in three games. Five runs in 31 innings. Damn, that's weak. The manager must be pulling out his hair, if he could actually get a hold of it, as it is rather short. The fans must be wondering where the magic went, cursing that it should disappear right when they needed it most, facing their mighty division foes. What happened to the Rockies offense?

Yes, for all the angst I have over the Dodger offense, I can at least take consolation that the Rockies have it worse. The Rockies not only lost the series, but they were also beat by the Dodgers in the run efficiency department: while both teams scored just five runs in the series, the Dodgers took one fewer inning to do it, thanks to yesterday's non-walk-off home win.

It really was a strange series. Pitchers knocked in 4 of the 10 runs scored. If you remove all the pitcher RBIs, then the Rockies would have outscored the Dodgers 3-1 in the series, winning the first game 2-0, winning the second game 1-0, and losing the last game 1-0. ( Ethier never would have hit his extra inning homer because the Rockies would have won in standard innings. )

Here are the innings and runs allowed by Dodger pitchers this past series:

Bills --- 7.2 -- 3
Wolf --- 6.0 -- 2
Kersh --- 5.0 -- 0
'pen --- 12.1 -- 0

I'm leaving the 'pen together to emphasize just how good they were. More than 4 innings per game and they still didn't allow a run. I'm still marveling over that Monday game, when 7 different 'pen pitchers pitched a scoreless inning. Not a weak link there. Mota? Not anymore. Perhaps I was wrong about him being a terrible signing, though to be sure he's only had one good month so far. But what a month it was! He's allowed only one run in 16 innings pitched this month ( though that run did cost the Dodgers a game ) and he's not doing it with luck, either, as he has 11 strikeouts and only 2 walks. Weaver, as the weak link, perhaps? Perhaps, but he's been a fine long man and spot starter all year, and frankly, if this is what your 11th or 12th best pitcher on staff gives you during the year, you've got an unbelievable staff.

Billingsley was the goat in the series, if there was one among the pitchers, but in another way he was the sacrificial hero. The 'pen pitched a lot of innings, between the long extra inning game and Kershaw typical brilliant but short 5 inning performance, and it would have been even more if Billingsley hadn't gone deep into Tuesday's game and given most of them the night off. Today is a day off, so even after this tough series the 'pen should be fully rested, with the possible exception of Belisario, who pitched two innings yesterday.

I want to give the 'pen three unfair win shares for this past game, just because they've been so great. But Furcal has to get one for his pinch hit RBI, and really I think Kershaw probably has to get one, leaving Belisario with the last one. It's so hard to choose between the relievers. On Monday I had to pick just one of the magnificent seven to get an unfair win share, and it ended up being McDonald just because he was the last. This time it goes to Belisario because he pitched the most.

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Furcal -- 1
Kershaw -- 1
Belisario -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Rockies )

Barmes -- 1
Tulowitzki -- 1
Spilborghs -- 1

01 July 2009

Game 78 Unfair Loss Shares

I have often wondered how unfair loss shares should be distributed if a team is shut down by a perfect game. Who gets the blame on the losing side, when every hitter is 0-3?

The Dodgers were not run out 27 straight, but Marquis came very close. Close enough for the same questions to hold. Well, Loney and Castro had hits, so they are safe. And then? And then we come right up to one of the many weaknesses of the unfair shares. There is something very inflexible about having to award three, exactly three, indivisibly three, every game. How much simpler and fairer it would be to just give everyone on the offense a third of an unfair loss share, or better yet, to just give none at all. Marquis was just too good. You can't blame the Dodgers. Well, I don't. I was ready to blame them in the fifth inning, ready to write about how the offense had become a grim and woeful thing, a misshapen beast with dysfunctional limbs. By the eighth inning I realized it was all about Marquis that night. He made the Dodgers irrelevant.

It is bootless to lament the injustice of the unfair loss shares. They are as they are, and if this game makes clear the limitations of this device, then so be it. Let no thing hide from the light of truth. Here, the margin of decision is laughably thin. Furcal and Pierre are damned for having the misfortune of batting four fruitless times against Marquis, while the rest are saved because they never got that fourth chance to chop an easy grounder out. And for the last, I choose Billingsley. His performance was not bad, but again he let the opposing team get to him with a big inning full of many baserunners, if a two run inning can be called a big inning, and it can, when faced against such a performance of Marquis'. Down one, the Dodgers had hope, even if it would ultimately prove false, but down three, against His Efficiency, they had none. In short, Billingsley gets an unfair loss share because the opposing pitcher was so good.

Unfair Win Shares ( Rockies )

Marquis -- 3

Unfair Loss Shares ( Dodgers )

Pierre -- 1
Furcal -- 1
Billingsley -- 1