Friday, January 31, 2003
You’re in Mediocre Hands…
Never trust people selling you insurance. (Except for my man Gary Shepard – he’s excellent.)
Ron Coomer, a 36-year-old third baseman returning to the Dodger organization after a nine-year absence - via a non-roster contract signed Thursday - is past the point of being a candidate for the major league roster. The short rise and steady decline of his career OPS stats:
He also averaged an error every 32 innings at third base last year – that works out to 45.5 per 162 games.
From Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
Needing third-base insurance for Adrian Beltre, the Dodgers Thursday signed former All-Star Ron Coomer to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp.
Mike DiGiovanna of the Times used the word “insurance” too. I’ve noticed more than ever that at this time of year, reporters throw around the word “insurance” most casually. I hope State Farm doesn’t view insurance this way.
Beltre, in his worst season, couldn’t hit or field worse than Coomer. (Well, now he couldn’t. In 1998, at age 19, Beltre’s OPS was .647.)
I don’t mean to disrespect Coomer - he’s got 88 more major-league home runs than I’ll ever have - but he isn’t insurance. He’s a gallon jug of water after your house has been leveled. If Beltre gets hurt and Coomer is your answer, we’re talking The Day After.
It might be possible that Coomer provides insurance for the Dodgers’ AAA affiliate. It might be possible that he provides a needed body for Spring Training split-squad days. That’s it. Coomer doesn’t even merit consideration for the dubious Dodger bench.
We’ll no doubt revisit this in April after Coomer hits a dozen homers in Spring Training.
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Charmed, I’m (Sort of) Sure
Since 1991, I’ve been keeping track of how well the Dodgers do when I attend games versus when I don’t. I’ve been faithful at it, and have only been betrayed by a couple of computer crashes.
Here are the numbers:
(Note: I have seen the Dodgers on the road a couple of times in this period, but I’m still only going to compare to their home record.)
2002: 46-35 (.568) overall, 16-14 (.533) with me
2001: 44-37 (.543) overall, 20-17 (.541) with me
2000: 44-37 (.543) overall, 14-9 (.609) with me
1999: 37-44 (.457) overall, 20-21 (.488) with me
1998: 48-33 (.593) overall, 20-22 (.476) with me
1997: 47-34 (.580) overall, 43-31 (.581) with me
1996: 47-34 (.580) overall, 35-26 (.574) with me
1995: 39-33 (.542) overall, 16-10 (.615) with me
1994: 33-22 (.600) overall, 19-11 (.633) with me
1993: 41-40 (.506) overall, 4-5 (.444) with me
1992: 37-44 (.457) overall, 17-19 (.472) with me
1991: 54-27 (.667) overall, 26-12 (.684) with me
Total: 517-420 (.551) overall, 250-197 (.559) with me
Prorated over a 162-game season, the Dodgers would win 90.5 games with me attending, 89.2 games without me.
Given the fact that I enjoy attending games against good opponents rather than bad ones, this statistically irrefutable evidence of my value is sort of cool. On the other hand, I tried to avoid days that guys like Kevin Gross or Tom Candiotti would pitch when I could (though I always seemed to end up seeing Candiotti anyway.)
My luckiest year appears to be 1995, while in '98 I could hardly buy a win.
I spent most of 1993, by the way, in Washington D.C. in graduate school. The years of 1996-1997, on the other hand, were marked by much time spent being single and unemployed in Los Angeles. In any case, I know I'm not Vin Scully, but 447 games in 12 years is a little impressive, isn't it?
* * *
Whenever I come home from a game, again almost without fail, I write a one-line summary of what was memorable. I skimmed them last night and picked out some of the more fun or interesting entries:
April 17 Dodgers 7, Braves 5 with Mom (2), Dad (2), Grandma Sue (1). Straw’s 2 homers rally team from 4-1.
April 29 Phillies 7, Dodgers 3 with Gary (1), Greg (5), Beth (2). Stadium clears out on night of King riots
June 30 Padres 2, Dodgers 1 with Dad (16), Greg (10), Beth (5). Harris PR, Javier PH, Lasorda’s an idiot.
July 3 Dodgers 2, Phillies 0 with Dad (18), Mom (12). A running, leaping Astacio hurls 10-K 3-hitter in debut.
June 7 Dodgers 7, Expos 1 with Dad (4) Mondesi homers, Offerman on fire, Nomo pitches out of bases full in 1st
July 16 Marlins 5, Dodgers 2 with James (3), Robyn (1). This team has no backbone.
Sept. 22 Dodgers 6, Padres 5 with John (2), Mary (1). Dodgers score 4 off Fernando, have to squeak by.
April 9 Dodgers 3, Mets 2 (14) with Jim (1). More feeble offense - 26 out in a row combined by the two teams. Piazza GW single.
June 30 Rangers 3, Dodgers 2 with Dad (24). Witt hits first AL P HR in 25 years. Mondesi, Piazza HR. Never led.
July 25 Dodgers 8, Phillies 1. Piazza, Karros 3RHR, 4RBI. Park 8 IP. Kid throws away foul ball, gets hit.
Sept. 7 Dodgers 9, Marlins 5 with Dad (32) This time up 5-0 and hanging on. Zeile GS, on base 11 straight times.
Sept. 21 Rockies 10, Dodgers 5 with Eileen (4), Lance (3). Piazza HR out of stadium, Mondesi HR, 5-1 lead, roof caves in.
5/15 Expos 4, Dodgers 2 - the night of the trade
6/12 Dodgers 2, Rockies 1. Foul Ball!!! Mondesi HR in 5th ends perfect game, Young HR in 8th.
6/13 Rockies 4, Dodgers 2. Triple Play!!!
6/24 Dodgers 6, Angels 5 (11). Beltre debut: 2 for 5. Luke gets winning run.
4/5 W Arizona 8-6 (11) Mondesi Day! 3-r HR in 9th, 2-r HR in 11th
4/23 L St. Louis, 5-12. GRAND SLAM RECORD - 2 by Tatis in third inning!
5/22 W St. Louis, 10-7. McGwire hits the roof and clears the park on one of two HR
8/28 L Chicago, 0-6. Sosa’s 54th in 7th off Dreifort breaks 0-0 tie. Farnsworth 2-hitter. Shutouts!
9/12 L New York, 10-3. Gagne sharp through 5 2/3, 3-2 on Piazza, then all lost.
9/22 L San Francisco, 5-4. Bullpen loses lead for Valdes. FOUL BALL #3, off Mondesi in 2nd!
7/17 Dodgers 9, Pirates 6 Dana, Robyn, Gwin. Dreifort HBP on foot with bases loaded for go-ahead run.
9/27 Giants 4, Dodgers 0 Dad, Mom, Dana, Greg. Prokopec gives up HR and 3-R 2B in 4th. Too many food lines are closed.
5/27 Dodgers 5, Astros 4 (12) Dad Dreifort 1H through 7IP, then Berkman 2-R HR in 8th and 12th. Dodgers 3 in bottom 12th (Berkman error). FOUL BALL
5/28 Dodgers 11, Rockies 10 (11) Dad LoDuca 6 for 6! Dodgers rally from 8-3 deficit.
6/24 Padres 6, Dodgers 1 Dana, Lenny, Lisa. Dreifort 0H through 4, out by 6. Eaton pitches three-hitter.
7/6 Mariners 13, Dodgers 0 Dana, Sky, Jon F., Elizabeth, Seth. Ichiro homers in first at-bat. Garcia 5 1/3 no-hit innings.
8/14 Expos 4, Dodgers 1 Park nono through 5 2/3, shutout through 8th, but Shaw allows four in ninth. 10 walks for Dodgers wasted.
8/30 Dodgers 5, Rockies 4 Dad. Dodgers hang on despite Park and Shaw’s rocky performances, Helton’s foul balls (60+ in series).
9/23 Giants 2, Dodgers 1 Bonds #67 wins it
4/2 Giants 9, Dodgers 2 Bonds 2 HR, Brown pounded
4/3 Giants 12, Dodgers 0 Bonds 2 more HR, Nomo & Mulholland pounded
4/4 Giants 3, Dodgers 0 Dodgers scoreless for 25 innings
5/26 Dodgers 5, Brewers 3 Green hits 10th HR in 7 games
8/28 Dodgers 1, Arizona 0 Perez HR in 5th wins it. He goes 8 innings.
Two games from 1997 deserve elaboration. Yes, in one that I saw, a young boy got a foul ball, threw it away, and was punched by his father.
And the one saying Todd Zeile was on base 11 straight times? Is that possible? Todd Zeile???
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
[Yep – I’ve decided to try out headlines. And I’ve decided to start with a really poor one.]
Time to mix in some optimism…
These are the Dodgers’ top draft picks from 1980-2001:
1980 Ross Jones
1981 Dave Anderson
1982 Franklin Stubbs
1983 Erik Sonberg
1984 Dennis Livingston
1985 Chris Gwynn
1986 Mike White
1987 Dan Opperman
1988 Bill Bene
1989 Kiki Jones
1990 Ron Walden
1991 Todd Hollandsworth
1992 Ryan Luzinski
1993 Darren Dreifort
1994 Paul Konerko
1995 David Yocum
1996 Damian Rolls
1997 Glenn Davis
1998 Bubba Crosby
1999 Jason Repko
2000 Ben Diggins
2001 Brian Pilkington
Doesn’t look like any of those names will be immortalized along the outfield walls at Chavez Ravine. (The memory of how the Dodgers lost a coin flip with the Mariners for the first pick overall in 1993, and had to settle for Dreifort instead of Alex Rodriguez? Just punch a hole in my chest, grab hold of my heart and squeeze.)
But wait – didn’t I say something about optimism?
In 2002, the Dodgers carried on by drafting James Loney, a first baseman/pitcher who, according to ESPN’s John Sickels, was projected to take the mound in the pros. Given the current conventional wisdom that betting on a high school pitcher to succeed is like shooting amoebas in a barrel – wisdom that the Dodgers have done more than their share to justify – this looked like another awful, awful pick.
These were Sickels’ comments on Loney in June, right after the draft:
On the mound, he features a 90-93 mph fastball, with more velocity likely as he matures physically. His curveball and changeup were good enough for high school, but will need sharpening at higher levels. He walked 28 in 54 innings, so his command needs work as well. At the plate, Loney offers plus power from the left side, but will have to prove that he can hit for average and get on base against good competition. Loney has tremendous raw potential both on the mound and at the plate, but will need careful and patient handling either way.
Well, the Dodgers immediately decided that Loney was a first baseman. They sent the 6-foot-3, 205-pound 18-year-old to rookie ball in Great Falls, and he hit .370 in 47 games (170 at bats), with 22 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 30 RBI, an on-base percentage of .457, a slugging percentage of .624, and an OPS of 1.081. He struck out 18 times against 25 walks. He dominated.
I’m not kidding when I say that within 47 games, some Dodger first-round picks have already become busts. So I think it’s okay to celebrate Loney’s debut even without regard to what’s to come.
Before 2002 was over, the Dodgers promoted Loney to Class A ball in Vero Beach – remarkable for an 18-year-old - where he had an OPS of .744 before a pitch broke his wrist and ended his season.
Uh, yeah. Broke his wrist.
Sports Weekly says that Loney is expected to be fully recovered for Spring Training, but that injury is just the thing I needed to temper my pleasant surprise at what otherwise seems to have been a wonderful pick. More than one source has said that Loney is the best hitting prospect from the 2002 draft.
If he has recovered, one could see him doing Vero Beach again in 2003, Class AA Jacksonville in 2004 with a taste of the big leagues at the end of the year, and becoming a candidate for the first-base job, at age 21, in 2005. Other than Paul Konerko, this is the most promising hitter the Dodgers have drafted with their top pick in more than 20 years.
Of course, Konerko got traded. Of course, there’s the injury. Of course, there’s also the fact that such a fast track has brought us mixed results with Adrian Beltre.
But since almost every Dodger draft of the past 10-20 years has earned ridicule, let us give praise while we can. All hail James Loney.
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
The Giants just signed Jose Cruz, Jr. (.754 OPS) - giving themselves what I would now call an excess of mediocre outfield compliments to Barry Bonds: Marquis Grissom, Marvin Benard, Ruben Rivera. If they move Ray Durham to center field from second base, I think they're going to have a truckload of salary and not all that much production in right.
Reggie Sanders (.779 OPS) remains a candidate to join the Dodgers. Unless he signs for nothing, though, I can't see it. If he does join, I guess the guy that would have to leave the roster to make room would be Mike Kinkade.
The current Dodger bench:
C David Ross
1B Todd Hundley
IF Cesar Izturis
LF Daryle Ward
1B/LF Mike Kinkade
UT Jason Romano/Terry Shumpert/Quilvio Veras/Jolbert Cabrera
So, the trade becomes P Ruddy Lugo and LF Luke Allen for LF Daryle Ward and IF/OF Jason Romano.
Bottom line, I’d still rather keep the pitcher. But I guess for now, I’ll just wait and see.
Romano, acquired from the Rockies for Allen just after Ward was acquired from the Astros for Lugo, joins Terry Shumpert and Jolbert Cabera in the group of multi-position bench candidates. Romano had a .802 OPS in hitter haven Coors Field, .562 everywhere else. I’m not impressed, though I’ll grant that Romano is only 23.
Here is great newspaper analysis, courtesy of the Times’ Mike DiGiovanna:
The speedy Romano can play center field, second base and shortstop and could be a right-handed complement to center fielder Dave Roberts if Romano improves against left-handed pitching -- he was four for 29 against left-handers last season.
What DiGiovanna doesn’t provide us is any reason for anyone to think he can make that leap.
Dan Evans told Ken Gurnick at MLB.com that the Dodgers were wowed by Romano in a September series, with "highlight-film defensive plays at two positions."
"That one game confirmed what the scouts said. That he's a terrific prospect," said general manager Dan Evans. "It heightened our awareness of his abilities."
Even if that "one game" is a legitimate reason to acquire a player, one thing the Dodgers already have is sound defense up the middle with Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis and Dave Roberts. What they need is hitting and starting pitching.
Meanwhile, press sources have touted Ward’s acquisition as having down-the-road value – positioning him as a replacement for Fred McGriff in 2004. Again, I’d like to see the evidence that he can be that player.
I’ve criticized the Dodgers’ January moves, and in doing so I worry about a rush to judgment. Each day Evans makes a move, I’m analyzing a roster that is unfinished in his mind. And Dan probably would be better than me at predicting how players will perform in the future. Would I have known a year ago that Dave Roberts would be effective? No, but Dan Evans did. So I do want to cut him some slack.
What scares me, though, is that I do think I’m hearing some rationalizations for these moves that don’t hold water. Jason Romano platooning with Dave Roberts? Wilson Alvarez as health insurance?
I feel that there is a fear of not making moves, of going into Spring Training with too little offseason action and too few names that baseball fans have heard of. Outside of the Karros/Grudzielanek/Hundley trade, I don’t really see any offseason moves that improve the organization. (And even that trade only improved the Dodgers by exchanging two albatrosses for one.)
I’m not saying there were other moves to be made.
The Dodgers look like an 81-win team, overbudget with limited talent in the minors. Perhaps to the rest of the world, the Dodgers look like a 90-win team, overbudget with limited talent in the minors. In either case, I don’t think anyone sees them as a potential World Champion – either of the Yankee or Angel ilk.
So I wonder whether Dan Evans fears going into Spring Training and having the press write, “This team can’t win it all, and Dan Evans is not doing anything about it.” Is he trying to get the angle to be, “This team can’t win it all, but at least Dan Evans is trying to do something about it?”
Luke Allen gets traded only because acquiring Daryle Ward makes him expendable. Daryle Ward is acquired because he’s started some games, had one stretch where he hit some homers, sat on a major league roster for a couple of years, and because he might be a not-awful first baseman in 2004.
Neither trade does anything to get the Dodgers closer to the World Series. In fact, by adding payroll and subtracting minor league pitching depth, I think it takes the team farther away.
Why – and I truly mean this – bother?
Monday, January 27, 2003
More signs of worry about the Dodger starting pitching - on the heels of my January 24 entry - from MLB.com:
(Dan) Evans said he is not done tinkering with complementary players, and indicated there is enough concern over the health of Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort that he wouldn't mind finding another pitcher like Wilson Alvarez, who signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers last week.
"We're not done. We have other things cooking," he said. "There are free agents out there and trades possible. I wouldn't be surprised if we make another move in a week or 10 days. We want to bring in players who will add to our versatility and depth.
"There are a number of things out there and I won't limit it to one area, but we don't know how Brown and Dreifort will be at the end of March."
Another Wilson Alvarez? I hope they've got something better on the hot stove than that. If not, then that's all the more reason not to trade a promising minor league starting pitcher for a backup leftfielder...
So, the Dodgers’ backup centerfielder is: Shawn Green. Or Brian Jordan.
That is one conclusion you can draw from the team’s latest acquisition – Houston Astros leftfielder/first baseman Daryle Ward.
True, worrying in January about the Dodgers’ backup centerfielder is a bit of folly (I do think it's weird that the backup in center is the starter in left or right). But if it’s any consolation, the acquisition gives me other things to worry about, too.
Daryle Ward is not a terrible player, necessarily. He’s only 27 years old, and in 2000, he homered 20 times in 264 at bats.
But compare his 2002 stats to those of Eric Karros:
Ward: .276 batting average, .324 on-base percentage, .424 slugging percentage, .748 OPS, 12 HR, 72 RBI
Karros: .271 batting average, .323 on-base percentage, .399 slugging percentage, .722 OPS, 13 HR, 73 RBI
Pretty scary, huh?
Ward was the slightly better player (in slightly fewer at-bats). And Ward is projected a backup, whereas Karros was a starter.
But Ward is a truly mediocre defensive player. A left-hander, he hits lefties poorly. He did most of his damage at home, and Houston’s Minute Maid (nee Enron) Park is a much better park for hitters than Dodger Stadium. He makes $1.35 million this year – not a small amount for a bench player these days.
Will the trade help the Dodgers reach the playoffs this year? I doubt it.
Will the trade help the Dodgers reach the playoffs in coming years? I doubt it.
I can understand the temptation that Dan Evans and the Dodger management faced. The Dodger bench right now is really an embarrassment. Ward will probably shine by comparison. And again, he’s not too old to improve.
But Ward plays the same positions as Mike Kinkade, the same as Luke Allen, the same as Chin-Feng Chen. Will he do so any better? Maybe. Will he do so so much better as to make a difference? Again, I don’t think so.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com quotes Evans as saying that he had tried to find a replacement for Marquis Grissom, last year's complimentary centerfielder.
"But we didn't find a perfect fit for center field," Evans told Gurnick. "It's more important to have a presence on the bench. We like Ruan and Hermanson as right-handed hitters who can play center field and be a fifth outfielder perfectly fine."
What would have been more important than Ward's presence on the bench? Building for the future.
In exchange for Ward, the Dodgers gave up minor league righthanded pitcher Ruddy Lugo (apparently, those double-Ds are natural). Lugo was 11-3, 2.84 last year between high Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, with a 100-39 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 innings. Lugo was a ways from being a lock for the Dodger rotation, and may never pan out. However, I find it discouraging that the Dodgers find ways to discard their minor league starting pitchers as if they’re never going to need them.
Over the past two years, that has been the Dodger way. They say they’re building from within, but I don’t really see a commitment – especially to young pitching. They are all too seduced by the lure of marginal improvements to the big-league roster.
To make room for Ward on the 25-man squad, the backup centerfielder spot that Chad Hermansen or Wilkin Ruan would have claimed will have to go to Ward. Hence, Jordan and Green become the Dodgers’ second- and third-most experienced centerfielders behind Dave Roberts. No big deal. But I think the move betrays conflicting goals by Dodger management.
If they were going to acquire someone for the bench, I think the Dodgers should have acquired someone who could hit a little and play either third base or center field – because the Dodgers are woefully thin there – or someone who could hit a lot. Ward does neither.
Better still, the Dodgers should be hoarding starting pitchers, instead of giving them away, in commitment to a plan to win in 2004 or 2005.
In the 14 ½ years since Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers have refuse to rebuild, and they sorely need to. As I’ve said before, the Dodgers’ goal used to be to win the World Series. Now it’s to somehow sneak into the playoffs one year and get lucky.
Unless Daryle Ward has the right biorhythms or astrology, I don’t see how he will help toward either of those goals.