27 April 2010

Last Place

But only two and a half games out. This is a very good division, even if it doesn't show up in the overall division record of 49-46.

Check out these on base percentages achieved and allowed by each NL West team, along with differential.

SFG --- 0.335 -- 0.290 (+45)
AZD --- 0.346 -- 0.333 (+13)
SDP --- 0.317 -- 0.306 (+11)
LAD --- 0.360 -- 0.352 (+08)
COL --- 0.336 -- 0.332 (+04)

All positive! There is a similar story for slugging achieved and allowed.

SFG --- 0.415 -- 0.326 (+89)
COL --- 0.449 -- 0.364 (+85)
LAD --- 0.455 -- 0.425 (+30)
SDP --- 0.392 -- 0.375 (+17)
AZD --- 0.465 -- 0.471 (-06)

Only the Snakes are doing worse than their opponents. I suppose the Giants come out as the best team in the early going, if you look at OBP and SLG differentials, but it's early. Things will change. I don't think all these positive number will remain all year. The Dodgers have time to turn it around, though I often doubt that they will.

Doubt is not certainty, though. I wouldn't say I have given up, or anything like that. I've shifted into a different mode of thinking, though. I've shifted the Dodgers from favorite to win the division to long-shot. Or perhaps medium-shot. The pitching is so uneven, and where will help come from? Unless there is a shocking mid-season acquisition, help can only come from internal improvement. I'm looking at you, Chad Billingsley. And he's looking back, or his Sunday box score is, anyway, asking if I saw that game. I did not, unfortunately, but I heard some of it, and I know he had a strong and efficient game. I almost think I would rather have had that 0-1 loss in which Billingsley set the foundation for a May resurgence than a 9-8 win in which he stunk again. Even better would have been a 9-1 win, I suppose, but the Dodgers don't appear to be that kind of team this year.

I take comfort in getting a lot of these east coast games out of the way. It would be nice if the Dodgers could do better than 1-2 in one of these series, but at least they don't get swept. They're still in the race. They are 4-2 when Vinny calls the games. Just get back to the west coast and play at a decent hour and get Vinny behind the mic and all will be well agian, I feel. In the meantime, maybe they can win the series against the Mets.

Maybe. And maybe Juan Pierre will collect an extra base hit before the year is over. So far, for the White Sox, with 72 at bats, Juan Pierre is batting 0.222, and slugging 0.222. If there was a way to slug lower than one's batting average I think Juan Pierre would find a way to do it. Pierre only has 1 RBI on the season, too. But he does have 9 stolen bases, so he is playing his game. Pierre knows how to play his game. I think Pierre is going to have the most Juan Pierre-like season he's ever had this year. Remember that day last year when he collected four extra base hits in the same game? Remember that home run he hit a couple years ago? I find, as time passes, that I only remember the good things about Juan Pierre. I wonder why?

19 April 2010

Deep Dodger Analysis

Yesterday I saw an NBA analyst declare that the Lakers were headed to the NBA Finals. His evidence? One home playoff game against the Oklahoma Thunder. Isn't this conclusion a bit premature? After one game, how much can really be said about the Lakers? After a dozen games, how much can be said about the Dodgers?

And yet, what is the alternative? Should we all just sit around staring at each other, saying "I don't know" and shaking our heads? The public wants conclusions and strong opinions. We want it. I want it. I guess I have to admit it. It is as if, at the conclusion of each game, I need to construct the feeling of a just concluded season. I am not content to wait to see what happens months from now. My despair or euphoria must be validated. NOW. Events cannot validate, so strong predictions must suffice. If the Dodgers lose, especially in a gruesome, tragic way, then the season is over, OVER, and we are free to conduct an autopsy of the team. If the Dodgers win, and if the winning has seemed like a habit, then we are free to imagine champagne showers.

You, who are reading this, can no doubt place yourself above such base psychological needs. Whether or not you participate in such strong reactions to wins and losses, you can surely see how irrational they are. I can. And yet, in unguarded moments, I will still have them. At times it is a juvenile catharsis. Back in the 90's my favorite method was to cast away any Dodger who failed, even over the space of just one at bat, so long as I deemed that at bat important enough. I don't know how many times I told Eric Karros that he was "off the team". Even Piazza was probably released several dozen times. Then after the century turned I became fond of saying, "The Season is OVER." This is the most richly arrogant way to react to a loss, I think. I am unhappy, and therefore I wish everyone else to pick up their gloves and bats and go home. What do I do now, in 2010? I write strange stuff in an obscure Dodger blog.* I think this is progress.

It is amazing how much one pinch hit Manny home run will alter one's predictions. Without that home run, my projected DEEP** record for the Dodgers is 77-85, but with it, my projected DEEP record for the Dodgers is 90-72. That's a 13 game swing, based on one swing! Isn't that great?

I actually wonder if I dreamed that home run. I hit a mid-day wall right about the eighth inning on Sunday, and I lay down on the sofa, and one thing led to another and I had an unintentional micro-nap. I remember Manny being announced as the pinch hitter, or something, and then there was darkness, and then I remember looking at the TV and seeing that the score was 2-1, in favor of the Dodgers, and then watching a replay of Manny's home run. Boy did that wake me up.

As for Saturday's game, I missed it completely, and so I am unburdened by any memories of what may or may not have occurred that day in Dodger Stadium. Don't tell me! My DEEP projections do not factor in anything that happened on Saturday at all. All I know is the Dodgers won the series from the Giants and the season is most assuredly not over. Thank you, Manny. ( Uh, and also thanks to Kershaw and Broxton too, I guess. )

* --- No, not this blog. Come on now, Dodgerama isn't obscure. My other Dodger blog, the obscure one, is called Dodgerbeardandsideburnanalysis dot com.

** --- DEEP = Dodgerama Emotion Engine Predictor

16 April 2010

Panic Averted

I was so ready to panic. 3-6 loomed like a death sentence. The Dodger bullpen had failed again. The Dodgers offense had failed in crucial moments, again. The Dodgers played defense like they were wearing high heels. Failure, a broken season. I knew I couldn't write that, that overreaction, but my imagination failed me. My early season reserve was gone. What would I call the post I would make, when I pretended that I wasn't panicking? The only title I had in my mind was an evasion of the doom before us, a wish --- they still might win --- panic averted. That was the only title I had. And I get to use it!

From the perspective of a Snakes fan it is also a failure of defense and relief and clutch hitting. Funny how that works. For the fans it is their teams that are the primary agents of change. Qualls and Drew and Boyer too. Oh, and what about Hinch? His decision to walk Kemp to get to Ethier and then not walk Ethier when the runners advanced was a bit like doubling Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom but leaving Kobe wide open at the buzzer. I think a legitimate defense of Hinch can be organized but his decisions just felt wrong at the time. Wrong for his team, anyway.

The Dodger bullpen is still a mess, but maybe help is on the way. As Vinny last night reminded us Kuo and Belisario may be back soon. Oh, what a boon it would be to have a healthy Kuo. If these two come back, I suppose the most likely candidates to leave are the Ortizes. Unless the Dodgers decide to cut loose Monasterios, but that seems premature.

The Giants come into Los Angeles with a 7-2 record. It would be rash for me to say the Dodgers have to win two of three in this series, but it would be dishonest for me to say that I could stay in the neighborhood of a rational perspective if they don't take two of three. The Giants have strode confidently into the NL West saloon and declared themselves contenders. The Dodgers are stammering in a corner, too self conscious to declare anything about themselves. "Maybe we're contenders" the Dodgers mumble, as they nervously chew on some licorice. Wake up, Dodgers, or you'll get punched in the jaw and laid out on the floor with the Giants cackling over you. Four straight years the Dodgers have looked down on the Giants. That's not enough. We need at least three more years of the Dodgers finishing over the Giants to make up for what happened between these teams from 1997-2003. The Dodgers open the series with Vicente Padilla. This is a bit like walking up to the Giants in the NL West saloon and offering them some licorice. "Be my friend?" say the Dodgers meekly, as they offer the licorice like a nerd. Slam! Onto the floor. I sure hope not. The Giant starter tonight is Todd Wellenmeyer, who has an early season earned run average (ESERA) of 5.68. Sounds promising for the Dodgers, except Padilla's ESERA is more than twice that! Sigh. The lesson here? Never bring a stick of licorice to a knife fight.

15 April 2010

Who Gets This Loss?

We can start with Russ Ortiz, who gave up the deciding runs to the Snakes and was tagged with the official loss. He had some bad luck, and threw some bad pitches. Two walks, half his pitches out of the strike zone. No strikeouts. Pretty typical stuff from him. He'll have better games; he'll have luckier games. But he'll also have a lot more games exactly like last night. The moment he took the mound in the eleventh the game seemed lost.

We need to shift our perspective, because Russ Ortiz may be the technical answer but he is not the answer that matters. If not him it would have been someone else from the back end of the bullpen giving up runs. It's just not a very good 'pen right now. Broxton is good, and the Troncuilizer is steady, and Weaver seems to get the job done more than one would think, and then? The Ortizes and the Rule 5 guy and Sherrill the peril. It's not a bullpen you want to see a lot of, and yet they're always needed, and often early, because the starters usually don't go deep into games. And that brings us to Billingsley.

If any pitcher really deserved this loss it was Billingsley. What happened to him? He was so great through three innings, and then --- what? I notice that he threw everything low, especially late in the game. Keep the ball down in the zone, analysts often say, and I think this is probably good advice, but maybe the hitters just got locked into all this low stuff. Maybe his pitches lost their bite later in the game. I wonder if his fastball got straighter as he tired? There must be some explanation. Billingsley has the ability to dominate, as the first three innings show. The answer isn't just that he's not a good pitcher. But something happened. Maybe it is mental, but what changed in the fourth inning to turn him into a mental wreck? I just don't see it. The mid-game fade has become standard for Billingsley, that is clear, but less clear is an explanation, a reason. For all his ability it appears to me his career is in peril. Early stage peril.

The offense is in peril too, peril of being wasted. 2010 may be the opposite of 2003, when the Dodgers squandered brilliant pitching because they just couldn't score any runs. The 2010 offense looks so good, but it just can't keep up with the awfulness of the pitching. The pitching will probably get better, but the offense will also get worse. The Dodgers aren't going to score 6.5 runs a game all year. As much as the offense can blame the pitching last night, the offense is not without blame; they left plenty of chances unfulfilled. That will happen, though. Seven runs in nine innings is enough. The blame must go to the pitching. But how did the pitching get into this state? That, perhaps, is where the true blame must lie.

There is a malaise around this team. It comes from ownership, from the divorce. There was, perhaps, nothing sensible for the Dodgers to do this offseason, but if there was, if you think there was, would the Dodgers have been in a position to do it? What about now? Is there any chance that the team would pay any money to improve the pitching staff in the middle of this year? This is the team we get in 2010, it seems. No ace is going to join the team. The pitchers will have to improve, or the Dodgers will finish around 0.500.

At least, if the Dodgers end up losing 80 or more games, I hope they don't all take four hours.

13 April 2010

How These Dodgers Opened

Ra. Ortiz-----R122,3,43,44
Ru. Ortiz-CCC,11+,22,33,44

Chart Legend

C = College
R = rookie league
1 = A
1+ = high A
2 = AA
3 = AAA
4 = The Show!

DSL = Dominican Summer League
In = Independent Leagues
- = injured, or in high school, or other
italics = short stint at that level, usually a month or less
? = not established as a major leaguer yet

All ages and minor league levels are taken from data at thebaseballcube.com. Minor League stints after a player becomes an established major leaguer are not shown. The chart for each player ends in the year he put in a full year at the major league level. Hiroki Kuroda is not in the chart. His first full season in the Japanese Central League came in his age 22 season.

I've had some trouble formatting the chart correctly, but I think it should be fine now. The rightmost column should be the age 29 column.

12 April 2010

The Narrative

I'm going to again respond to a comment in a new post, because it is just so fascinating, and so representative of certain ways of thinking about baseball players. I think it bears further investigation. The argument is about Russ Ortiz and whether he belongs on the Dodger pitching staff. On one side is me, maternal basement dwelling blogger* and on the other side is an anonymous commenter. Basically, my case against Russ Ortiz is that the last time he pitched well was 2004. My opponent replies to the stats with a narrative, and I respect that. This is the only rational way to argue Russ Ortiz's case, I think. Here is the narrative in support of Russ Ortiz:

I'm sure you don't know much about Ortiz' pre-Tommy John injury to the rib cage when with the Diamondbacks that affected his mechanics. I'm also sure you don't know how eager Leo Mazzone (who worked with Ortiz when he was with the Braes) was to pick him up with the Orioles, still before his surgery. You can't possibly know how he was jerked around by the Astros, yanked in and out of the bullpen (which doesn't work for a lifetime starter), then waived -- then Cooper (the real problem) was fired himself by management for mis-management of the staff. You probably didn't see how quick both New York and Colorado (both competing for playoff spots) wanted to secure Ortiz in their systems last spring. You also have no idea how his arm is now, how much he's recovered, and how well he's throwing -- like hie did when he had the type of experience most Dodgers just dream of...of pitching critical games in the World Series - VERY effectively.

This, to me, reads much as a Spring Training Piece would. We are given all the reasons why a player is about to turn it around, why he hasn't been able to fulfill his potential before, but now! Now! Things are different. And, you know, they might be. I like a good turn-around story. But I never would have cast Russ Ortiz as the lead in that turn-around story.

Ortiz is the hero in this proposed story, and like any good story the hero must face adversity. Injuries. Surgery. Teams jerking him around. He's had a fall, from near World Series hero** to yet another example of the folly of giving out big free agent contracts to starting pitchers. So, fate has been unkind to him. But also, people believe in him! Contenders wanted him last year. Legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone wanted him. And now the Dodgers want him. So there is this tension, between what he could be and what he was made to be by circumstance. The end to this story is supposed to be that Russ Ortiz has had it in him all along to be a good pitcher, and this season he will finally show it. Something like that, right?

But I just don't buy this story. I don't find the proposed ending believable. Because, you know, I've seen it before. You can tell the same story ( or a similar one ) about lots of washed up pitchers every year. He's finally healthy. He's finally fixed his mechanics. He's finally away from the assholes on that other team who just didn't use him right, who didn't really believe in him. This is not a new story. I know how it ends, more than 90% of the time, at least. It ends with the pitcher still not being very good. And the thing is, I can't remember any other pitcher coming in to the Dodgers with a worse track record in his previous 5 years than Russ Ortiz. It's epic! I've seen pitchers come in and do well after one or two years in the wilderness. But it needs to be one hell of a narrative to convince me that Ortiz has something left and this one just doesn't do it.

Is there any possible rebutting narrative that could convince me to ignore five years of terrible stats? It would have to be a drastic change. Maybe if he had suddenly become a knuckleballer, and worked on perfecting his command of the chaos pitch all offseason. Or if they had invented some new kind of surgery to fix him, Russ Ortiz surgery, and now he was coming back with a fully repaired arm, a modern day Tommy John. But he's just a 36 year old pitcher who hasn't pitched well since he was 30.

So there it is. The Narrative is just not compelling enough. I think the commenter has done about as well as he or she could do with the material there is to work with, but it just wasn't to be. We will see how well Ortiz pitches this year, and I am sure he will have games where he gets the job done. He already has. But I think the Dodgers could have done better, even with all the injuries to relievers they have faced. I think he will have a lot of bad games.

If he does turn out to be a good pitcher, I think that will be one hell of a story.

* -- It is a huge basement, and also completely above ground, and miles away from the rest of my mother's house, but there are those who say that we never really escape the shadow of our parents, so maybe in some symbolic way it is my mother's basement. But I don't have dialup. I mean, come on.

** -- Shouldn't Russ Ortiz have some responsibility for the jinx game ball that Dusty Baker gave him in game 6 of the 2002 World Series? He could have refused it, right? He could have said, "Dusty, what are you doing? The game isn't over yet! You can't give me a game ball! You'll invite the wrath of the baseball dryads and we'll lose!" Instead he took the ball and the doom of the Giants was sealed. Let no one say that I don't appreciate Russ Ortiz's intangible role in the Giants coughing up the World Series in 2002. ( On a more serious note, as long as what he did in the World Series counts, he was terrible in game 2. Gave up 7 runs. )

11 April 2010

Hammering Russ Ortiz

Comments are a rarity around here, and combative comments even rarer, so I thought it might be fun to rebut this one in a separate post:

Why are you hammering on Russ Ortiz? He's had ONE bad inning since the beginning of spring - two lights-out appearances in Pittsburgh, and one tough inning at Florida - it was Broxton who gave up the double. And it has been Sherrill who has sucked all spring, and now again tonight. Russ Ortiz has been GREAT this year, and a great find for the Dodgers. Why hacks like you, on blogs like this, can't do your homework - it's beyond me.

From 2001 to 2004, Russ Ortiz had a better than average ERA every year. His ERA+ numbers those years, according to baseballreference.com: 122, 107, 113, 105. Or if you prefer straight ERA: 3.29, 3.61, 3.81, 4.13. But there was a warning sign already in Ortiz's performance, for anyone willing to heed it, and I'm not just talking about the rising ERAs. His strikeout to walk ratio was 1.5 to 1 in 2003 and 1.3 to 1 in 2004. Those are not good ratios. Eventually they will catch up to you. Even in the offseason after 2004, if you really did your homework, you could tell that Russ Ortiz wasn't as good as he appeared. The Arizona Diamondbacks didn't heed the warnings. The Snakes signed him to a 4 year, 33 million contract, and the next phase of Russ Ortiz's career began.

In 2005 at age 31, Russ Ortiz posted a 6.89 ERA for the Snakes. In 2006 he was even worse, and the Snakes released him even though they owed him another 20 million or so. His ERA between the Snakes and the Orioles in 2007 was 8.14. In 2007, he returned to the Giants, the team of his youth, but he didn't find the fountain of youth. He posted an ERA of 5.51. Which was a huge improvement, and yet still awful! His 2007 season was actually cut short by Tommy John surgery, and he missed all of 2008 recovering, and then in spring training of 2009 he posted an ERA of 3.18. So --- maybe the surgery had fixed whatever was wrong with him? No. He ended 2009 with an ERA of 5.57 and the Astros released him. His spring training ERA in 2009 was irrelevant to his performance when it counted in 2009.

So why should his spring training performance this year matter? Why should a small sample of good performance in games that don't matter partially against non-major league players count more than four years of terrible results in games that do matter? His combined ERA in those four years is 6.56. His ERA+ is 68. He has walked a total of 173 and struck out 182. That is just awful. It is really unfathomable that a pitcher can be so awful over a period of four years ( with one year completely missed ) and yet still be in the big leagues. Russ Ortiz's last good season came when he was 30. He is 36 now. It is madness to think he can be a contributing pitcher this year.

I am asked why I am hammering Russ Ortiz. The problem isn't that I'm hammering Russ Ortiz. The problem is that batters have been hammering him since 2005 and there is no reason to think they won't continue in 2010.

10 April 2010

Dodgers Lose, Brain Cells Riot

After catching and surpassing a Marlin's lead twice, and taking their own two run lead into the ninth inning, the Dodgers yak up the game and fall 6-7, bringing their tally on the season to 2-3. The Dodgers still look like a 0.500 team, maybe even worse, and the twin problems dragging down this dynamic offensive club are starting pitchers who can't pitch deep into games and a thinly stretched relief corps that isn't up to the job.

It is perhaps accurate to say that Broxton should have been ready for tonight's game, that he could have closed tonight if either Torre had managed his outings better or if Russ Ortiz hadn't been so awful last night, but of more importance is that the combination of Troncoso and Sherrill should have been enough to get the job done anyway. They didn't, and we are left wondering just what kind of bullpen we have this year. Belisario should show up at some point, and maybe Kuo, and there are young arms to be called up, perhaps, or inadvisable trades for middle relievers or overpriced closers to be made. There are ways to attempt to improve a bullpen, should that prove necessary. But there are never any guarantees with relievers. They are inherently volatile.

Which is part of why it would be foolish to draw any firm conclusions after five games, except the ones we could have made before the season. Russ Ortiz has no place in the Dodgers pen. Ramon Ortiz should hang on only as long as there are no better options. ( Why does not the same apply to Russ Ortiz? Because there are always better options to Russ Ortiz. It's a law of space and time. ) Jeff Weaver continues to be a middle innings dream-weaver and we can only hope he doesn't regress and turn into a nightmare-weaver. I thought before the season started that Sherrill was a candidate to be a bad pitcher this year and that he might not even finish the season with the Dodgers and so far he is right on track for that. Except who would want him if he keeps pitching like this?

Sherrill may yet turn it around; we can't rule that out yet. Can we say the same for Vicente Padilla? I don't see why we should have to, given that there was so little evidence beyond appealing to small sample sizes and the magic of changing uniforms to support his being a good starting pitcher. I don't think the Dodgers have a chance at winning 90 games again if he stays in the rotation all season.

But even if the Dodgers can improve on Padilla's spot in the rotation they still need the bullpen to be stronger. And I think it will, but --- I am worried, even after five games. The thing about a bad 'pen is that a couple of times a week it gives up just enough runs to lose the game, no matter how well the offense played. It becomes a loss-seeking missile whose collateral damage is the good will and sanity of the team's fans. Boy, I sure don't want to go insane.

08 April 2010

Judgement Time

If you really think about it, almost any reaction to the opening series of a season is an overreaction. Just think, in a just a week we'll have tripled our sample size of 2010 game action on this team. In a month, this series will seem utterly insignificant. After the season, it will be completely forgotten.

But right now this series is all we got, and it would be awfully boring to just take the sanitary and sane long view that avoids hasty judgments. Judgments are fun. Overreaction makes us feel alive. Let us indeed be hasty! Let emotion rule the day! Let no one utter the heresy of sample size!

So, here it is: this Dodger team is no better than a 0.500 team. The talent is there but the will to win is not. Oh sure, they want to win, but that is not the same as the will to win. How do you know the will to win? You know it by clutch moments. Runners are not left stranded at second or third. Starting pitchers avoid walks and go deep into games. Managers don't allow more than one Ortiz to pitch in the same game.

The offense should be good, but you can see how it could be worse than last year's, right? The old players may decline, some may even plummet, and if the young players do not improve and pick up the slack, then there is trouble. Can Kemp and Ethier be better than they were last year? Most likely they'll just be the same as they were last year, which would be plenty good, but being the same is not enough to reverse an offensive slide caused by the likes of Blake and Furcal and Manny getting worse. If you're looking for hope that the offense won't be worse you need to hope Martin or Loney improves. Possible, yes. But not a comfortable thing to have to hope for. Martin is the better bet. Loney I fear will just get worse. Oh, and Blake Dewitt needs to replace what Hudson did last year. But maybe that will be easier with an assist from Belliard and his belly full of improbable extra-base hits picking up the slacks at second.

In truth though the offense is not the big worry. Overall it was pretty good in the opening series, if one can overlook for a moment all the stranded runners in games 1 and 2. Six runs a game will usually get it done, unless the pitching isn't up to the job. And it wasn't. It is pitching, then, that drags the Dodgers down to 0.500 in this instantaneous projection.

The Dodger starters threw a combined 14.1 innings in the three game series, while walking 13. Wow, bad luck. And bad pitching. You won't go deep into games with that many walks. Someone is going to have to improve. The team can't handle 5 innings a start the rest of the year.

Kuroda may do well. Haeger is intriguing and a little scary. We can hope for improvement from Billingsley and Kershaw, though, truly, their starts in the past series were nothing very out of ordinary. They will have more games like that. Both were mildly effective, in spite of the walks, but that is little comfort when you are thrown upon the mercy of a bullpen full of Ortizes so early in a game. There is a Broxton in there too, but he must not pitch unless it is a save situation ( or at least a ninth inning lead ) so he might as well not be in there. But at least Billingsley and Kershaw give us reason to hope. Padilla just appears to be a disaster. I don't rue the Dodgers not going out and getting an ace, I rue them not getting anything better than Padilla. He's going to drag this team down. Padilla is like a quesadilla, except filled with walks instead of cheese. Those walks are going to melt all over the place and put stains in the team's record, and nothing will get those stains out, not with the budget the Dodgers are on.

So that's the story after three games. The Dodgers are doomed. Check back in a week and I'll have them winning 95 games, I guarantee it.

05 April 2010

Opining Day

The line between fact and opinion in baseball is as fuzzy as this metaphor. The numbers describing certain facets of baseball are so comprehensive and deep that statements which might usually be seen as opinion take on the characteristics of fact. In baseball, there is truth, damned truth, and VORP. Players are numbers, governed by known equations, easily ordered by value.

But no, this is too much. Fact has not overtaken opinion that much.

Even hitting, the most numerically mapped athletic discipline in existence, is not easily pinned under a single matrix of numbers. The year to year fluctuations of player stats are proof enough of that. But even if each player was reducible to a single number, the games would still be living things, unpredictable, unknowable, endlessly debatable. An opportunity for fun, a playground for opinion. Even Juan Pierre can hit a home run. Even Chan Ho Park can pitch a scoreless inning.

Except he didn't. Did you see that? That was great. Last night it wasn't just an opinion that Chan Ho Park is a terrible pitcher who will give up home runs and make you weep if he's on your team. It was a stone cold fact. I love that even a team like the Yankees who pay for only the finest players still have to rely on someone like Chan Ho Park in the seventh inning. Middle relief is the great leveler. Even the best and richest teams will sometimes struggle to find quality middle relief. There's just no stability there, in performance and in team personnel, not year to year, often not even from month to month! Still, Chan Ho Park? Really, Yankees? Ha ha ha!

I couldn't believe it when my wife said, "Isn't that Chan Ho Park pitching for the Yankees?" I scoffed. But it was him. That made my night. I don't know, maybe I'm being too hard on him. He was great for the Dodgers in 2008, and not too bad for the Phillies in 2009. But still, does anyone really think Chan Ho Park can handle the AL East this year? The only thing more desperate a team could do would be to employ Russ Ortiz as a relief pitcher.


04 April 2010

The 2010 Opening Day Russter

For every player there is a story. Sometimes it is a boring story, in which case it's best to make something up.

Here are the stories of the 25 players most likely to make the opening roster for the Dodgers.

Matt Kemp

What do we want to see more of from Matt Kemp? More steals? More home runs? Could he be a 40-40 guy? Yes! What else? More great plays in center field? More cannon throws to exterminate runs at the plate? Indeed, yes. More moments when he seems the most physically gifted player to ever wear the Dodger Blue? Absolutely. It's all possible.

But then there is one more thing, and it isn't a "more" at all, it's a "less". Or a "fewer", if we wish to be grammatically correct. We want to see fewer outs. It's not very exciting but when I look at what he did last year this is where it appears the Bison can make the most improvement. 0.352 OBP last year, and 0.340 the year before. These are not bad numbers, not for a good defensive center fielder with power. But if he is to become a superstar, he needs to improve, I think. Can he? I have no idea.

Even if he never does, he's still the most fun Dodger to watch in a long time.

Andre Ethier

This year his clutch hits will come before the ninth inning. That's usually when they come. Think of how often the three run home run in the third inning ends up being the crucial moment in a game. Can you think of how often this happens? Maybe not, because it's just not a memorable way for a game to be decided. But it happens all the same. If Andre hits well, that's clutch enough, isn't it?

Manny Ramirez

He removes himself from the ordinary circles of the baseball world without even trying. His hits are art. His slumps are drama. His words are comic theatre. His silence is a window to the soul. His hair is Bob Marley. His fielding is Cosmo Kramer. His name is Manny. And that's who he is.

Garret Anderson

This might mean something --- to someone who likes the Angels --- or has a sense of solidarity --- with our Metropolitan baseball cousins --- but I don't care --- he's just another old guy --- just a guy with a bat --- and a glove, I guess --- I don't know his stats --- or his hopes --- all I know is that he's washed up --- just filling out his baseball time --- filling out a roster --- filling outfield spaces --- when the outfield isn't full.

Reed Johnson

Oh man, I got nothing. Really. I can't even make anything up. How about a game? Let's see who ends up with a better Dodger career --- him or Brady Clark? Do you remember Brady Clark? Perhaps, but is there a compelling reason to remember him? I think Reed Johnson is going to be the same way.

Russell Martin

So here he is, back from injury early, ready to play on opening day. Will the lack of playing time this spring hurt him? Will it give him an excuse to get off to a slow start, thereby taking the pressure off to produce, thereby allowing him to instead get off to a fast start?

Brad Ausmus

Bad Ausmus, I call him, when he makes an out in a game. Would it be more creative to call him Brad Outmas instead? How about Brad Ausmiss if he strikes out? At least he doesn't get turned into a boy named Sue ( or some other female name ) when he does poorly. My wife still calls JD Drew "Judy Drew". Sometimes this will annoy me because he's a pretty good player but other times I think it's pretty funny. Some people prefer to feminize Drew by calling him Nancy, but really do people even read Nancy Drew books anymore? I think Nancy Drew grew up and became Mary Worth.

James Loney

What keeps James in the big leagues? He doesn't hit a whole lot of home runs or doubles. He's not fast. He doesn't pitch, not anymore. He doesn't walk a whole lot. He doesn't play catcher or shortstop or some other tough defensive position. Basically he plays a good defense at first base and makes a lot of contact. That's about it. Is that really enough for a first baseman? Maybe it is when you have a outfield like the Dodgers have and you're getting paid low arbitration dollars. But soon, if he doesn't improve, I don't think it will be enough.

Rafael Furcal

I'm not really expecting much out of the Furbolg this season. Maybe get on base at a 0.340 clip, don't make too many bad throws, hit a few random home runs and please don't get hurt! Oh, and no more DUIs, please.

Blake DeWitt

How long a leash do you think Blake has? How long can he struggle without Joe Torre playing Angel Berroa Ronnie Belliard too much? I wish Torre could undergo psychological conditioning to make him think that Blake DeWitt was a veteran.

Jamey Carroll

Good signing. Seems like a solid bench guy. Doesn't he make Ronnie Belliard unnecessary?

Ronnie Belliard

Just to remind you ( I had forgotten ) but Ronnie Belliard was amazing for the Dodgers last year. He had an OPS of 1.034. Five home runs in a month of games. He was Marlon Anderson version 2. I kind of wish his all time career OPS as a Dodger could have stayed above 1.000. Instead --- how low will it go? Belliard has had some decent seasons fairly recently, but his age and his weight problems make it seem likely he'll crash into uselessness one of these years.

Casey Blake

I think the Dodgers should be allowed to void his contract if he's clean shaven. His beardlessness reduces his value to the fans by at least 50%. They should start selling "Free Casey Blake's Beard" shirts outside Dodger Stadium.

Clayton Kershaw

All the stuff I was going to say about him has been ruled a "jinx" by the jinxing committee.

Chad Billingsley

Order of importance that certain parties believe in the ability of Chad Billingsley:

1. Chad Billingsley
2. Joe Torre
3. Ned Colletti
4. Some gambler in Vegas who bet lots of money on the "over" on Billingsley wins
5. Teammates
46. The fans
103. Sportswriters
104. Bill Plaschke

It's interesting how many people focus on Billingsley when trying to figure out how good the Dodgers will be in 2010. Are the likely upper and lower limits of his performance really any wider than they are for most of the other Dodgers? Does a bad season from Chad hurt more than a bad season from Loney or Martin? If Chad pitches worse than expected, or hoped, the difference could still be made up by another player having a better than expected season. And yet people talk about his performance this year like it will make or break the team.

Vicente Padilla

In 39 Dodger innings last year Padilla struck out 38 batters. That is the kind of ratio that would indeed make him worthy of being the opening day starter. Unfortunately he had never posted a ratio anything like that over a full season, and he's not about to start now at age 32. But if he keeps his walks down he might yet be league average this season, which would be great.

Hiroki Kuroda

How can you not root for a guy who comes back weeks after giving up a ground rule double off of his own head? Why didn't he get the opening day start, if it couldn't go to Billingsley or Kershaw?

Kuroda had an ERA of 3.73 in 2008. He had an ERA of 3.76 in the 2009 regular season. He had an ERA of 40.50 in the 2009 postseason. So, running a linear regression analysis on these numbers I find that his predicted ERA in 2010 is 89.57. Ah, so that's why he isn't being given the opening day start.

Charlie Haeger

Tom Candiotti was the last knuckleball pitcher in the Dodger starting rotation. Candiotti lasted 6 years with the Dodgers, and they were mostly good years. His ERA+ in those six years were 116, 124, 97, 109, 87, and 108. A better than average pitcher more often than not, and never truly awful, unless he was pitching in Denver. But he only made three starts in Denver. The Dodgers learned quickly that the knuckleball just didn't work in the thin air.

What chance does Haeger have of a Dodger career as good as Candiotti's? Not much, I guess. But I'm rooting for him. I just hope the Dodgers have the sense not to pitch Haeger in Coors field.

Ramon Troncoso

The Troncuilizer returns! I'm expecting good things from him this year. With a few exceptions, relievers are very unpredictable, so I think the most you can ask of them entering a season is that their best case scenarios be good ones. I think that is the case with Troncoso.

Jeff Weaver

What is his best case scenario? Just below league average ERA, I think. But that's not so bad for a long relief man.

George Sherrill

I just have a feeling he won't end the year as a Dodger.

Carlos Monasterios

This is the perfect name for a rule 5 guy. These guys just come out of nowhere, like they were living at a monastery before, right? I mean, if they didn't seem like they were coming out of nowhere I guess they couldn't be rule 5 guys.

Jonathan Broxton

Can he forget? Can we forget? Should there be any forgetting at all? I think with Broxton, will all the talent he has, it is fair to say that he still has the majority of his career ahead of him. So, let's not conclude right now what kind of pitcher he is. Don't close the book on him being a great, clutch pitcher. He's already had some great moments. He's also had some awful moments. Oh yes. But that's not necessarily what will define his career, even if one accepts that they should define his career up to this point.

Ramon Ortiz

What? He made the team? Russ Ortiz made the team? What? Oh, Ramon Ortiz. Oh. Well, that's okay, I guess.

Wait, his last major league season was 2007? He spent 2008 in Japan and 2009 in AAA with the Giants? How could the Dodgers say Fresyes to a pitcher who pitched in Fresno last year?

Well, I guess it could be worse. They could have put Russ Ortiz on the roster. At least they picked the right Ortiz, if they had to pick one.

Russ Ortiz


08 March 2010

Russell Unathletic

When there is real news in Spring Training, it's usually bad. The Dodger news of the weekend ( and the new week ) is that Russell Martin is expected to be out for four to six weeks with a strained adductor, otherwise knowns as a groin strain. Given that timetable, our young catcher in search of baseball redemption would miss opening day and opening week, at least. Given that he would probably need a rehab assignment, the whole month of April might be lost.

But I wonder if it might be more. Could this be the middle of the end for Russell Martin as a Dodger? I don't really believe that it is, and yet, my thoughts do go there. This is the sort of pessimistic speculation that is sure to infuriate some people. I think it would infuriate me if I had not heard it from the dire whispering of my own thoughts.

The beginning of the end for Russell Martin as a Dodger, if there is an ongoing end to be spoken of, and I really hope there isn't, would have come in 2008, when his offensive statistics began their decline. He was still good that year, very good offensively for a catcher, even, and he was a deserving all star selection that year, and yet -- it seemed like he could have done better. I thought he would be better in 2009, or at least not worse, and Martin talked about a renewed focus and dedication that spring, but instead he slumped to offensively average at best for a catcher that year. By his standards it was a genuinely bad year. That year was when a lot of Dodger fans began to question the previously unshakable assumption that Martin was the catcher of the future, a long term fixture as Dodger catcher, as long as we didn't lose him to free agency. But if 2009 was the new normal, then maybe we would want him to leave in free agency? What a horrible thought, and yet also true to being a fan. We love you if you are good.

And now, the groin strain. The middle of the end, maybe. This is the kind of injury that can linger. Isn't it? I am not Will Carroll, injury expert, so what I say here is based on feel, on half-memories, perhaps false memories. This seems like the kind of injury that might keep a player always two weeks from recovery. There's not that much wrong at any one time, but something small keeps going wrong. Remember Rafael Furcal's back injury in 2008? I worry that it might be like that. Setbacks, false recoverings, and then revelation that the injury was more extensive than thought. New timetables. Polite yet frustrated quotes from management. Do you have to, do you have to let it linger? There is no reason to think it will go like this, though! Except, maybe Martin will push it. We know how he is. Wanting to play everyday. Wanting to push through pain and slumps and common sense. He's already talking about it. Martin: "My goal is to not miss one game ... They gave me a time frame. If I keep bugging them, maybe then I'll get it down." Nooooooo! You have to get it completely healed! But wait, there's more: "Odds are it won't work. You'd rather be safe than sorry. One thing I have to understand, even though I don't like it, it's what I have to do." That's better. It's clear he gets this, in his head. But will he take it to heart?

Maybe the bigger point here is that this is something else Martin has to fight. He has to fight his slump of last year, and now on top of that he has this injury. But is a slump something you fight? Maybe it's better if he just focuses on being healthy. Maybe this injury could work to his advantage, in the long run. The pressure isn't on to perform anymore, it's simply to get healthy.

There is more. This injury is not only a potential blow against the Dodger career of Martin, but against the Dodger hopes in 2010. In the worst case for 2010 Martin is never able to come back, and Ellis and Ausmus give the Dodger something close to nothing from catcher. Maybe Colletti makes a terrible trade for a veteran "upgrade" catcher at the deadline at the cost of a good young prospect. Maybe Vinny retires in disgust because the catching is so bad!

Yeah, it's easy to overreact. This is one bad thing, maybe a very mild bad thing. If Martin misses one or two weeks, and then comes back at full strength, it barely qualifies as a bad thing. There will be good things that happen too. And more bad things. Expectations are set to be defied. Odds are the odds are wrong. Kemp slumps, Loney breaks out, Manny joins a monastery. It could happen, or something crazier. Even the things we know, we don't really know. People talk about known unknowns, which are the things that you know you don't know, and the unknowns unknowns, which are the things you don't even realize that you don't know, but there are also the unknown knowns, which are the things you think you know but you really don't.

So this injury to Martin is the first entry in the ledger of surprises for 2010. It won't be the last.

23 February 2010

How Tiger Woods is Like Spring Training

I think that Tiger Woods apology conference was a lot like the start of spring training. A lot of hoopla and no substance. Does the return of Eric Gagne to the fringes of the Dodger roster count as substance?

There are really only two questions that matter in the Tiger Woods situation, and he answered neither of them. First, is he going to stay married to Elin? He did not say. You might argue that this is none of my business, but the state of being married or not married to someone is a basic public fact. And I'm not going to pretend to be above wanting to know if he and Elin are going to stay together, not after the bizarre car accident and all that followed. I'm not asking for details, for what has been said and all that. It's a basic question. Give us an answer, instead of just a long self-serving apology.

Second, and the appropriateness and relevance of this question is beyond debate, I should think -- when is he going to start playing golf again? Golf is the only reason Tiger Woods is important or famous. But he wouldn't answer that question either. I suppose his position is that he doesn't know. He doesn't know any of the answers to the important questions. Then why is he speaking to us? Don't waste our time if you have nothing of substance to say.

The Tiger apology speech last week really was like a Spring Training puff piece. Full of platitudes and the fake shine of vague optimism that now a trajectory to improvement and better times is being followed. Oh sure. Who is more believable, Tiger saying he's sorry to all the kids who looked up to him, or the journeyman pitcher saying this is the spring that the mechanical adjustment turns it all around for him? What about the middle infielder who will strike out less because he meditates?

In the battle of baseball and Tiger Woods, baseball wins, because I know when baseball substance will return. We drink baseball's spring moonshine because it's ultimately harmless, a manifestation of the desire we all have, to reach the pinnacle and take that pennant. Why would we drink Tiger's moonshine? He's just a guy desperate to hang on to the sponsorships he has left.

25 January 2010

Into the Arms of America

Based on the 2009 regular season, you could debate which was the better team between the Dodgers and the Phillies, but based only on the 2009 NLCS ( which is all that really mattered ) it was clear that the Phillies played better. So, for a Dodger fan, it was a bad loss, but it was not a senseless loss. The pain of the loss came from the feeling that the team should have played better. It could have been worse. It could have been the kind of contest after which the losing fans feel that a cruel script has been drawn up for them, been laid upon them, like an old world curse, that strange chance and untimely weakness has tragically unwound all skill and achievement and delivered, at the end of struggle, bitter defeat.

And that was the fate of Viking fans yesterday. Better, by far, to have been a Jets fan yesterday, and know that your team played well, achieved beyond sensible dreams, but just wasn't as good as the Colts. But for the Vikings, what logic determined their fate? They outgained the Saints by over 200 yards, but could not hold on to the ball. Both teams, in fact, had trouble handling the football. The Vikings fumbled six times, and lost the ball three of those times, while the Saints fumbled three times, and lost the ball once. In spite of this barrage of fumbles, the Vikings were in position to win the game as regulation came to a close. The game was tied 28 apiece, and Brett Favre has driven the Vikings to the doorstep of a make-able, game-winning field goal. Third and 10, and maybe a run up the middle for five yards would be just the thing to set up the field goal and win the game. But before anything like that could happen then there was a senseless penalty for 12 men in the huddle. Suddenly the field goal was a little too long, and it was third and 15, and a play had to be made to save the chance at the game-winning kick. I'm sure that's what he was thinking, Mr. Favre, as he came out of the huddle for that fateful play. He had to make a throw. He had to make something happen. I think maybe Brett Favre was the greatest ever at making something happen in the history of sports. And here, finally, in a game full of fumbles and muffs and strange plays was the inner logic that would guide the game to its conclusion. What had to happen, happened.

The Saints came after Favre, and he was chased to his right. Thinking, probably, that he had to make something happen, Favre threw back to his left, against the grain, as they say, against sanity, they might just as well say, for those poor Vikings fans. But for the rest of us? It was the greatest throw of Brett Favre's career.

I would like to think he made that throw for us, the rest of us. The ones who were tired of the how much announcers gushed over him. The ones who were sick of his yearly retirement dance, which first began in 2006 and has become worse and worse with each passing year, culminating in the sleazy farce this year where he said he was retired for good at the start of training camp only to then suddenly come out of retirement after training camp was over. That throw was for us, intended or not. It revealed the truth, that Favre is still an overrated gunslinger. Everything that came after, the overtime coin flip won by the Saints, the overtime penalties, the pure field goal for the win by the shaky young kicker, it all seemed to flow from that throw. That beautiful throw. An interception, from Brett Favre's hand, across the field, into the arms of America.

22 January 2010

The Two Year Plan

I look forward to the season. I look forward to the games, so much, because they will drive away the feeling of hopelessness I have about the Dodger franchise right now. It was not a second loss to the Phillies in the playoffs that took away my spirit for the Dodgers. I was the revelation of the deep cracks in the Dodger foundation. There is a crisis in the Dodger ownership. The divorce. Revelations of personal greed that undermined the franchise. Insincere assurances. Arrogant proclamations that everything is fine. Financial decisions that point to looming ruin for the product on the field. The wretchedly dysfunctional Dodger ownership passed up on free draft picks because there was a small chance that it might cost them some money. So yes, I look forward to the season, because while the Dodger name has been tarnished, the Dodger team that takes the field for this season is not yet been ruined.

I look forward to the season because this, right now, is my favorite Dodger team of all time. These Dodgers haven't won the most, but they're the ones I've grown fondest of, the ones I've watched break in and thrive on the big stage. These Dodgers, who have never been anything else. These Dodgers, Kemp and Ethier and Kershaw and Billingsley and Broxton and Loney and Dewitt and McDonald. We've had two years of these Dodgers, and we'll have two more, at least. And two more years at most, probably. For some of them. A team too cheap to make a play for valuable draft picks that might very well save money in the long run is not going to be able to keep Kemp and Ethier and Billingsley around when their service time strikes midnight.

I think of it as a two year plan. All my favorite players will be around two years more. Vinny will be around for another year at least, but maybe also two years. I hope. And then, after two years, when Vinny is probably retired, and the oldest of the young players start leaving --- what? I don't know. It's a two year plan. I don't have the emotional budget for year three right now.

21 January 2010

A Pitcher With No Name

The Dodgers can do better than Vicente Padilla for their fourth starter. He's more of a fifth starter, or even a fifth-point-five starter, the kind of guy you bring in at the end of a season when you've lost too many other pitchers to injury and regression and curious head games. He was that kind of guy last year. Padilla is Eric Stults with a resume and a briefcase full of service time. But really Padilla is the horse with no name. He'll give you some innings, make you glad to be out of the rain, get you through the metaphorical desert, but that's it.

But you know what? Orel Hershiser is not walking through that door. Sandy Koufax is not walking through that door. ( Unless Kershaw counts for that, but we're talking about the fourth starter here, remember. ) There are no shiny free agents walking through that door. Let's give thanks for that, probably. How often, really, is giving a pitcher a multi-year deal a good idea? With Padilla it's just one year, five million dollars. That's less than they're paying Juan Pierre to go away. And Padilla is a horse, by which I mean, a functional pitcher. It's better to have a horse with no name than no horse at all. I don't know who the Dodgers fourth starter would be if it wasn't Padilla. But I know who the fifth starter would be. Russell Reid Ortiz.

Are you scared yet? Or just skeptical? Maybe it really wouldn't be, but not having Padilla would make us one step closer to having Ortiz in the rotation. Remember Jose Lima? He was another washed up pitcher who was a spring training invitee. Yeah, Lima worked out, but that doesn't make him fundamentally a good pitcher or at the time a good bet, it makes him a gateway drug. Lima was the gateway drug that convinced the Dodgers that drugs were cool ( in other words, that inviting terrible terrible washed up pitchers to spring training is cool ). And Ortiz is the terrible, awful drug at the harrowing end of the drug journey, the cautionary tragedy at the heart of an ABC afterschool special, or the centerpiece of a very special episode of Diff'rent Strokes. Anything that helps keep Ortiz away from the mound of Dodger Stadium is fine by me.