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Dodger Thoughts


Friday, January 10, 2003

The Dodgers have no lefthanders in their bullpen - Jesse Orosco will celebrate his 46th birthday with the Padres - so something’s going to have to change.

Here are the projected relievers:

Eric Gagne, RHP, 4-1, 1.97 ERA, 52 saves
---->Unless success went to his head, no reason for this to be a fluke
Paul Quantrill, RHP, 5-4, 2.70 ERA
---->He and Nomo were the only Dodgers to pitch better after the All-Star Break
Paul Shuey, RHP, 5-2, 4.40 ERA
---->Those are his Dodger stats, after going 3-0, 2.41 with Cleveland
Giovanni Carrara, RHP, 6-3, 3.28 ERA
---->Good at keeping his own runners from scoring, but often allowed others’ in
Darren Dreifort, RHP, Injured in 2002
---->He makes $11 million and doesn’t want to relieve, but may have no choice
Guillermo Mota, RHP, 1-3, 4,15 ERA
---->He and Carrara most likely to be traded to make room for a lefty

More likely than not, the bullpen will be a strength this year. There are no weak links in the bunch. Shuey got off to a terrible start as a Dodger, and Carrara slumped at times, but otherwise, this is a solid group. I wouldn’t expect the bullpen to falter unless the Dodger starters falter, forcing the relievers to pitch too much too often.

Not having a lefty in a division with Barry Bonds, Todd Helton, Larry Walker and Luis Gonzalez is problematic, so I expect a move to be made. The fact that Bonds homers off everyone won’t keep people from pointing out the Dodgers need a lefty reliever. That said, Gagne, Quantrill and Shuey are capable of getting left-handed hitters out. I’d like to have that lefty and expect to get it somehow, but what I’m trying to say is that the Dodgers have bigger worries in their starting rotation and bench (if not their starting lineup) than this.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Let’s get right to our preview of the Dodgers’ starting rotation.


Here are the projected starters:

Odalis Perez, LHP, 15-10, 3.00 ERA
---->25 years old and outstanding last year; opponents had OPS of only .605
Hideo Nomo, RHP, 16-6, 3.39 ERA
---->Fortunately, team eased off after he threw 254 pitches in two early Sept. starts
Kevin Brown, RHP, 3-4, 4.81 ERA
---->Anyone’s guess whether he has a good year left
Andy Ashby, RHP, 9-13, 3.91 ERA
---->Was very good before All-Star Break in 2002, declined thereafter
Kazuhisa Ishii, LHP, 14-10, 4.27 ERA
---->Wasn’t even that good when he was good

The story with the rotation is simple. The Dodgers have depth in the sense they have six starting pitchers, including Darren Dreifort, but four of them had injury-plagued seasons in 2002 and the other two have had serious arm troubles in the past.

Dreifort is said to be 100 percent now, but of the six, he’s best suited to work out of the bullpen, so I’m putting him there for now. But no doubt, even if he doesn’t begin the season in the rotation, he will find himself there at some point, much as Omar Daal did last year.

I would say that each member of this rotation has the talent to win 12-15 games – and if they all do that, the Dodgers will contend. But this is definitely not a staff like an Oakland or Atlanta, where you can count on the good guys being good and the great guys being great. If Brown is done, and if Ashby is done, and if Ishii and Dreifort don’t recover and improve, and if Nomo and Perez tail off…look out.

Coming up: The bullpen.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Okay – back to the pre-Spring Training analysis of the Dodgers. As Chris Leavell pointed out to me yesterday, I have every reason to be excited about the Dodgers right now – they are undefeated in 2003!

But wait until you see the bench. Here are the projected reserves:
(Note: OPS is on-base average plus slugging percentage. This is a handy figure to measure a batter’s overall production, incorporating hits, extra-base hits, and walks. Anything above 1.000 is superb; anything below .700 is poor.)

Todd Hundley, C/1B, .722 OPS
---->Will no doubt be subject of much derision this year
Mike Kinkade, 1B/LF, 1.083 OPS
---->I have high hopes for him – perhaps too high
Jolbert Cabrera, IF/OF, .382 OPS
----->The fact that he has a slot on the roster is a bad sign
Cesar Izturis, SS, .556 OPS
----->His defense will probably give him another shot as a starter, but I’m not convinced
Luke Allen, LF, .619 OPS
---->7 career at-bats, but fairly promising – led 2002 Dominican Winter League in batting average
Wilkin Ruan, CF, .636 OPS
---->11 career at-bats. Had 2 hits in his first inning in the majors

I haven’t looked at any other team’s bench, but this one on paper looks like it could be the worst in baseball. One would not have to be jaded at all to surmise that the Dodgers face a real problem here. Not one proven backup in the bunch. Of course, the Dodgers may acquire more help, but then again, good help is hard to find when you’ve maxed out your budget.

You don’t often see a starting first baseman and a starting second baseman traded for a backup catcher, but say hello to Todd Hundley. And frankly, it’s a stretch to say Hundley is a backup catcher – his arm has been shot for years. He hit 16 home runs in a half-season of at-bats, so he’s not without value. But he figures to help very little.

That said, it was to the Dodgers’ benefit, I believe, to trade Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek. Those two may hit better in Chicago, a friendlier hitters’ park, causing people to squawk. But they do not have much to offer as starters. I would rather go with Fred McGriff and Joe Thurston than Karros and Grudz.

Because of Hundley’s weaknesses, it would be nice if the Dodgers had a true backup catcher on the roster, such as minor leaguer David Ross. But I don’t know whom the Dodgers would drop to make room for Ross. Perhaps Wilkin Ruan, if Jolbert Cabrera could be a backup centerfielder. Or perhaps Cabrera, if Cesar Izturis or Alex Cora can backup at third base. That might be the best bet, because as bad as Hundley might be, I can’t believe I’m talking about Cabrera being on the roster. He has a career .588 OPS in 634 plate appearances.

I’m projecting Cora to be the starting shortstop over Izturis, although the media has it the other way around. One reason the Dodgers might start Izturis would be to improve the bench with Cora, but to me, that’s a weird sort of logic to follow. I wouldn’t put it past them though. Cora is also trade bait. He would probably do very well with another team – most ex-Dodger shortstops do.

I’m hoping Luke Allen might make a contribution as a pinch-hitter and backup for the oft-injured Brian Jordan, but my real hope for the bench is Mike Kinkade. The Dodgers desperately need an unsung player like him to come through. He’s shown he can do it on a limited basis, but without guys like Dave Hansen around anymore, they really need him to do it for a full season – platooning with McGriff and pinch-hitting.

Chad Hermansen, who was also acquired in the Hundley trade, is also a backup outfield candidate: career .601 OPS.

The Dodgers’ starting lineup is average. The bench is bad. Can the pitching save them? Find out next time, when we meet the starting rotation…

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I'll get back to the 2003 Dodgers soon, but I am cutting in to comment on the two players elected to the Hall of Fame today - both ex-Dodgers - Eddie Murray and Gary Carter. Both are completely deserving, although Carter had to wait until his fifth year of eligibility. Carter is at a level just below Mike Piazza as a hitter, and since Piazza will retire as the greatest hitting catcher of all time, that's saying something. And Carter was much better defensively. Murray played at a high level of excellence for close to 20 years. The Dodgers acquired Murray toward the end of his career, not too differently from their newest first baseman, Fred McGriff. McGriff is a Hall of Fame candidate but is a level below Murray.

I covered about two dozen major league baseball games as a reporter, and only three at Dodger Stadium. But one of my most memorable experiences involved Murray and Carter. To put it in context, Murray retired with a terrible reputation with the media; Carter retired on quite different terms.

I had patiently waited 30 minutes in the Dodger locker room before a game to interview Carter and had just begun to interview him when Murray directed me to leave the locker room. There is a rule that reporters have to leave the locker room x minutes before the game starts. I had never seen this rule enforced until Murray tried to. Carter, realizing how long I had waited and knowing I wasn't asking a lot, let me finish the interview.

The rule is there for a reason, and I don't begrudge its existence. I will easily give Murray the benefit of the doubt that he was probably doing what he thought was right for the team. At the same time, I was doing my job in a professional manner and it would have been nice if he had tried to work something out with me instead of trying to kick me out, no questions asked.

I am confident that no doubt some unfair and/or inappropriate things were written about Murray during his career. However, I also tend to believe that he was similarly flawed in his dealings with reporters, and that whatever was written about him in Baltimore or anywhere else, he deserves some responsibility for his reputation as a curmudgeon with the media.

The postscript to this is that today Ken Daley, the Dodgers' main beat reporter for the Daily News, wrote an article very critical of Carter, based on incidents that occured the same year:

Daley implies that he didn't vote for Carter for the Hall of Fame for these reasons. I think the moral of the story is that unless you have a situation like Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, it's best to judge HoF candidates on their on-the-field merits as much as possible.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Here we go - it’s time for Dodger Thoughts, 2003. Allow me to skip the preamble and just start churning content!

The Dodgers open the season in March for the first time, I believe, with a road game in Arizona on Monday, March 31 at 12:05 p.m. Pacific Time. The Dodger home opener is also against the Diamondbacks, one week later at 1:10 p.m.

I’m going to start off this week/month/year by going over the Dodger roster and lineup.

Here are the projected starters:
(Note: OPS is on-base average plus slugging percentage. This is a handy figure to measure a batter’s overall production, incorporating hits, extra-base hits, and walks. Anything above 1.000 is superb; anything below .700 is poor.)

1. L Dave Roberts, CF .718 OPS
---->Solid, and did well enough against LHP to deserve full-time chance
2. R Paul Lo Duca, C .731 OPS
---->Had a more demanding, less productive year than in 2002.
3. L Shawn Green, RF .944 OPS
---->So streaky: Barry Bonds one day, Barry Williams the next
4. R Brian Jordan, LF .807 OPS
---->His whole season was in September: 30 RBI, .967 OPS
5. L Fred McGriff, 1B .858 OPS
---->Had .946 OPS, 28 HR vs. RHP; .620 OPS, 2 HR vs. LHP in 2002
6. R Adrian Beltre, 3B .729 OPS
---->Most promising Dodger since Mondesi – can he avoid being bigger disappointment?
7. L Joe Thurston, 2B .967 OPS
---->196 hits in minors last year, but will he get half that in majors this year?
8. S Alex Cora, SS .805 OPS
---->Surprisingly useful at plate, but Dodgers may still go with Cesar Izturis (.556)

The best thing about this lineup is the mix of lefties and righties - it's a really good balance. I do think first base will be an improvement over last year, if the Dodgers platoon McGriff with Mike Kinkade (1.083 OPS, 1.219 OPS vs. LHP).

But Green is still the only hitter in this lineup that scares you, and he only scares you during his hot streaks. Similarly, Jordan and Beltre are each good for a couple of streaks of their own each year, but have been inconsistent. The other five players, even at their best, aren’t going to kill you. There is room for improvement across-the-board – no one in this lineup exceeded their potential last year – but with the exception of Beltre and Green, it would be more likely that the players would see a dropoff. That’s what’s scary.

The biggest question mark is Thurston, who has only 15 career plate appearances. There's nothing to suggest he won't have some struggles - unless you think the Dodgers are due for some luck.

Next: The bench.

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