Saturday, March 08, 2003
Taking Their Time
The 3-4-5 hitters, Shawn Green, Brian Jordan and Fred McGriff, haven't cracked the 10 at-bat mark yet.
I was surprised to find that Adrian Beltre has - there's been very little noise about him this year, even though he is pivotal to the Dodger hopes. However, beyond the kind of stuff that I discussed February 25, I guess there really isn't much to say about him until the season starts.
Not Just What, But When
We all know Spring Training stats are misleading, but it's hard not to get excited when an underdog player does unexpectedly well. Larry Barnes is the top 'dog so far, with Calivin Murray, Ron Coomer and Chin-Feng Chen also among those making waves.
One way to help keep things in perspective is to take note of when these guys are doing their damage. If it's coming in the latter three innings, as I believe has been the case with Chen and Barnes, then you have to recognize that it's probably coming against AAA competition, not major league competition. (And if it's coming against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh, eighth or ninth, then maybe we're talking AA. Baltimore's talking about trying to acquire Ken Griffey, Jr., for prospects, yet the Orioles don't have a prospect in most major magazines' top 100.)
That doesn't mean I'm not rooting for Barnes et al. I'd love to see a tough competition for the bench spots behind Ward, Kinkade, Cora/Thurston/Izturis and (gulp) Hundley.
Friday, March 07, 2003
He’s years away from the major-league roster, but I continue to pay too much attention to 18-year-old James Loney. After starting 0 for 7, Loney got his first two hits yesterday – a single and a double.
In seven games, the Dodgers have stolen 14 bases in 16 attempts.
Alex Cora, Joe Thurston and Cesar Izturis are a combined 3 for 31 in the spring so far. They are batting .097. With their three combined HBPs, though, their on-base percentage leaps to .176 and their OPS jumps to .273. So, not to worry.
Trying to Make Shuey Fit
The thing with Dodger general manager Dan Evans is, most of the time, he seems like a bright, thoughtful guy.
And then there’s the rest of the time …
We all have our blind spots – I know I have mine. Thursday, we got to see more of Evans’, when he continued to rationalize the trade of top pitching prospects Ricardo Rodriguez and Francisco Cruceta to Cleveland last year for reliever Paul Shuey.
Interviewed by Ken Gurnick yesterday, Evans at first said, "When I make a trade, I don't get the chance to reconsider. If I feel right about the deal at the time, I do it and don't look back."
That’s a fair position to take. Even if a trade doesn’t make sense now, it seemed right to him at the time and maybe there’s no sense crying over it, at least to the media.
But then Evans did look back – and it wasn’t good. Gurnick wrote that “Evans defends the trade on the basis of need, and indicates that Rodriguez would not have enjoyed the same opportunity in Los Angeles that he will in Cleveland.”
There was also this quote from Evans:
"Shuey will help us over the next two years," he said. "There's no telling what Rodriguez will do. We all know Shuey. He's proven. If all of our starters are healthy this year, Rodriguez would be pitching in the minor leagues anyway. With our ballclub, a lot of games are decided in the sixth and seventh innings. When you have an offense that has struggled scoring runs and you have one of the best closers in the game, you have to keep the other team quiet in those middle innings to get to the closer."
Here are the problems with that train of thought:
1) There isn’t any more knowing what Shuey will do, following his inconsistent adjustment to the National League, than what Rodriguez will.
2) It's nice to say that if the Dodger pitchers were healthy, Rodriguez would have been in the minors. Of course, because of the health of the Dodger pitching, Rodriguez would have had every opportunity to contribute.
During the run for the wild card last September, journeyman Kevin Beirne started three games for the Dodgers. Reliever Giovanni Carrara started one. Omar Daal approached his fifth September start having lasted only 14 innings – and allowing 17 runs – in his previous four. Even minor leaguer Victor Alvarez started once in September, though it was on the last day of the season after the Dodgers were eliminated.
This year, the Dodgers are considering Wilson Alvarez as a potential swingman. Are we to believe that Rodriguez would have no opportunity to contribute, as a starter or as a reliever? And what about years to come, as Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo and Andy Ashby get even older? You can add Cruceta into the what-might-have-been category as well.
It shouldn’t be so hard for Evans to acknowledge that this trade might have been rash. This was just a big-time false rationalization.
Evans might still be redeemed if Eric Gagne, who had an MRI on his back yesterday, were to miss significant time and Shuey stepped up brilliantly. And even with a healthy Gagne, it’s not like Shuey can’t be a positive contributor.
But with his team in a long-term payroll and starting pitching crunch, it’s doubtful anyone will ever be able to justify that trade. I look forward to the day we see a sign that Dan Evans’ blind spot is getting treatment.
Thursday, March 06, 2003
In its preview of the top 50 pitching prospects in baseball, Sports Weekly put Ricardo Rodriguez - the man the Dodgers traded away for a man they might now be trying to trade (Paul Shuey) - No. 1.
This came in response to Wednesday's column on pending ownership change with the Dodgers:
Good column today. I don’t think there is too much to be concerned about as of yet. As I see it, here are the potential buyers:
1) Dave Checketts wants the cable channels and not the team
2) Alan Casden wants Chavez Ravine and not the team
3) Philip Anschutz wants to build a new stadium and not the team
The team is worth too much money to just be an afterthought in any deal. This means that any of the potential buyers probably need a partner who actually wants to own/run the team (like Bob Daly does currently). Perhaps Peter Ueberroth, Casey Wasserman, or even Daly would be interested? It is just way too early to get worried about any of these possibilities and I am betting that none of the possibilities are quite as bad as they seem.
Also, it isn’t really fair to compare this sale to previous one. Fox is leaving the team in a lot better shape today then when Fox bought it. There is a solid management team in place and a cohesive vision. It pains me to say it, but when Fox bought the team there were a lot of changes that needed to be made. O’Malley had really let things fall apart after the Al Campanis incident and with the rising costs of running a franchise.
Keep the faith,
p.s. only 25 days till Opening Day!
Does Dreifort Kneed to Relieve?
I asked Will Carroll, who analyzes all baseball medical matters in the excellent and unique "Under the Knife" series on Baseball Prospectus, about the recurring buzz from Vero Beach that Darren Dreifort's knee might not stand the up-and-down stress of Dreifort being a relief pitcher. This is a notion I'm skeptical of. Here is Carroll's reply:
It's mostly usage. As a starter, is he getting appropriate rest? Is he pitching efficiently? Is he being monitored for mechanics, pitch count, velocity, etc? As a reliever, is he being used on consecutive days? Is he up and down in the bullpen? Is his role consistent?
There's so many factors - not to mention factors individual to Dreifort - that go in, I simply can't even fathom a guess as to where he'd be more effective or less likely to be injury free.
Ok, I will guess. With Jim Tracy's propensity for finding good matchups and watching usage, I'd say he'd do well in a setup role. With his contract, I think you have to let him start and see if he implodes.
Nice to have some backing for my point of view - even though it's just a guess, it is a guess from an expert. I do disagree about letting him start because of his contract. At this point, no one thinks that contract was a good idea except Dreifort and Scott Boras, his agent. The ticket has been punched - now let's find the best seat we can for Dreifort, even if that seat is in the bullpen.
Of course, this week, the possibility was raised that Andy Ashby might be the No. 6 starter/set-up reliever. We'll see...
Riffin’ with McGriff
Fred McGriff’s first spring-training homer was off a left-handed pitcher, Brian Anderson. According to MLB.com, however, Anderson said “he served up an experimental curveball that he won't throw to left-handed hitters anymore.” Not that one spring-training home run would make a difference anyway, but there remains every reason to be wary of playing McGriff much against left-handed pitchers.
As for the Dodger left-handed pitchers, hopefully it was just dead-arm day. Wilson Alvarez, Pedro Borbon, Jr. and Steve Colyer combined to allow 12 earned runs in five innings. Yorkis Perez managed to sneak in a shutout inning.
In the first of two good articles today, long-ago colleague Kevin Modesti of the Daily News reports that neither McGriff, nor more importantly, Jim Tracy, are planning for McGriff to be platooned at first base.
Modesti injects the proper skepticism about this, and ultimately, Tracy does as well. McGriff, on the other hand, is every bit as charmingly deluded as you'd expect him to be:
"To me, if you hit 30, it doesn't matter if they're against left- handers or right-handers," said McGriff, who hit a high breaking ball Wednesday.
But in 2002, McGriff hit one per 70 at-bats against lefties and one per 13.6 against righties, a huge difference not seen in his earlier statistics.
Platoon a five-time All-Star who's 22 homers away from 500?
"Initially, that's not the way I'm looking at it," Tracy said. "That's what he was brought here to do, exactly what he did here today."
“Initially.” Good ol’ Nothing’s Sacred Tracy.
Modesti’s column, by the way, compares the musical tastes of the old and young Dodgers, and includes the following:
How about Springsteen?
"I listen to a little of that," Romano said. "It's soothing, you know?"
While Romano is nodding off to sleep to the "soothing" beat of "Ramrod," let's consider the makeup of the team that's being assembled this spring in Dodgertown.
Kevin Brown's Next Team
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Jerry Rice (40) has signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension that will give the Oakland Raiders more salary cap room.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Is a Little Tranquility Too Much to Ask?
When News Corp. purchased the Dodgers near the end of 1997, the new owners fixated so much on how much money they could wring out of the operation immediately, that they failed to consider what was best for the long term. As a result, they and the people they hired made detrimental decisions that have prevented the team from being successful, financially or otherwise, for years.
Amazingly, as News Corp. prepares to sell the team in 2003, it's becoming clear that things could very well get worse.
James Flanigan's article in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times today is sobering. It points out that the interests of leading ownership candidates for the Dodgers are every bit as crass, if not more so, than those of News Corp.
We already know that the group led by Dave Checketts doesn't really want the Dodgers as much as it wants Fox Sports Net 2. Although Checketts presumably might still be interested in what's best for the team on the field, we also know that his heavy-handed leadership of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden resembles Kevin Malone's tenure as "Dodger sheriff" more than anyone might be able to stomach. (See January 22.)
Now, Flanigan writes, the motive of other franchise buyers, such as Alan Casden, is to use the purchase as the anchor for a grand ol' real estate deal. Local real estate industry leaders told Flanigan that at about $1 million per acre, the 300-acre Dodger Stadium property is worth about as much as the franchise itself. They have bandied scenarios in which with city support, Dodger Stadium would be torn down for residential development, and a new stadium would be built downtown near Staples Center.
One can argue that this has the makings of justice, returning Chavez Ravine to the pristine state that existed before Walter O'Malley had it handed to him on a silver platter in 1957. (Although, of course, with a rich real-estate developer at the controls, I tend to doubt low-income housing would be the result.)
One can also argue, as local maverick Eli Broad told Flanigan, "I don't see how the economics would work" to pay for the new stadium downtown.
I'm not here to debate these positions. My concern, as parochial as it may be, is about the team on the field. And if the Dodgers are merely grist for the mill (yes, it's a cliche, but it's the first time I've used it in 35 years, so indulge me), you can forget about the slow but steady rehabilitation of the franchise that has taken place under Bob Daly, Dan Evans and Jim Tracy. New owners who only care about bigger dollars don't figure to have the patience to indulge silly concerns like building through a farm system, or allocating money for scouting, or maintaining the charm of a beautiful stadium from - gasp - the 20th century.
Flanigan concludes his article thus:
...any new owner of the Dodgers would have to invest more than $100 million just to refurbish Dodger Stadium, which is more than 40 years old.
All of this suggests that seeing the Dodgers as a real estate opportunity might, at the end of the day, be the real home-run strategy here.
The assumption, which I gather Flanigan is reporting more than endorsing, is that even after investing $100 million in the stadium, assuming that figure is really what's necessary even after the installation of advertising and luxury suites in recent years, an owner will not be satisfied with the quality of the merchandise he owns. Because there's more money to be harvested from the ground. The Dodgers would be fuel for the engine of The Big Deal - fuel that would be burned and discarded as quickly and conveniently as possible.
If the people who will approve the eventual sale of the Dodgers - namely, Bud Selig and his fellow owners - have/had a shred of conscience about their sport, they would not permit the Dodgers to be sold to people with such motivations. Leave these people to the NFL.
The Dodgers need an owner who can explode the mythology that running a baseball team - just running a baseball team - is a guaranteed money loser. And you know how to explode that mythology? Make decisions that make allegiance to the team irresistable. Make decisions that are calm and reasoned. Use that big-picture mentality for baseball, instead of corporate conquest. It simply hasn't been proven that this isn't possible.
Monday, March 03, 2003
Where There’s a Wills, There’s No Way
First of all, a quick aside: congratulations to Kazuhisa Ishii, Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort. Whatever happens in the coming season – and it may well not be good – they’ve all had serious injuries, and for them all to make such glowing returns in the same game is nice thing. Too bad the game wasn’t on TV in Los Angeles – I really would have liked to have seen it.
I’m a little late on this topic, but I wanted to talk about Maury Wills and the Hall of Fame.
First, let’s get his hitting and fielding stats out of the way. For his career, Wills’ OPS+ was 88, meaning that his OPS was 88 percent of the league average. In 14 seasons, the longtime Dodger shortstop exceeded the league average once.
In those 14 seasons, Wills made 331 errors, or more than 27 per 162 games. By comparison, Jose Offerman has made 26.3 errors per 162 games, excluding the 62 games in which he was a designated hitter. Wills would need Ozzie Smith range to compensate for those mistakes and be worthy of the Hall.
Or, I suppose, he would have had to revolutionized the game with his stolen bases.
Wills stole 586 bases in his career, at a success rate of 73.8 percent, winning six consecutive stolen base titles from 1960, his third season, through 1965. In 1962, one year after Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, Wills broke the stolen base record by stealing 104, in 117 attempts, and won the National League Most Valuable Player award.
OPS doesn’t account for stolen bases, but EQA does. Wills’ career EQA (adjusted for park and era) is .264 – slightly above average. He was above the average total of .260 in half of his 14 seasons.
So at least we’re not necessarily discussing the Hall of Fame credentials of a below average player. Of course, Wills’ single-season best EQA, .289, is less than the .292 career EQA of Maris, himself a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.
Now, let's get to the biggest argument made for Wills, which is that what he did for baseball is bigger than his stats. By making the stolen base a weapon in the 1960s, Wills is said by many to have revolutionized the game.
People seem to think Wills’ achievement has the same or similar importance as Babe Ruth revolutionizing the game with home runs.
The differences? No. 1, Ruth was a weapon unlike any that had ever been seen before, while the stolen base in 1962 was the return of something that had been around before, but laid to rest. Sort of like the difference between the Revolutionary War and, well, any U.S. war that followed.
No. 2, who was the revolutionary here? Maury Wills, or Dodger manager Walter Alston? At worst, it had to be some combination of the two. Hitting a home run vs. spraying the ball around the park was more Ruth's doing than anyone else's, but wouldn't Alston deserve credit for recognizing the weapon that was before him and using it? Or did Wills start stealing 20 bases a month on his own, defying not only opposing catchers but his own manager?
And as for the revolution … here are the NL stolen base totals for 1962, when Wills’ stole 104, and the ensuing 10 seasons:
This is a revolution? Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic, but shouldn’t stolen base totals have gone up following Wills’ record year?
If there was a revolutionary, let’s talk about Lou Brock, who stole bases prodigiously and got on base more than his average contemporary. Lou Brock is a Hall of Famer.
I’m not trying to take any credit away from Wills for the stats he produced. They’re all his. I also praise him for helping the Dodgers win many games, pennants and World Seriesess. I mean, in that respect, as far as I’m concerned, thank God for Maury Wills.
But the conventional wisdom that those stats had a profound effect on the game itself? What’s that stuff you wash hogs with? Oh yeah – hogwash.
I guess you had to see Maury Wills to appreciate him. No, that’s not true. I appreciate him, and I never saw him play. I guess you had to see him to over-appreciate him.