Friday, March 14, 2003
I've been vascillating on the idea of writing on the weekends. Obviously, there's a lot going on with the Dodgers on Saturdays and Sundays, but at the same time, there's a lot going on chez Weisman too. Hope you'll be patient as I try to work out the schedule. Meanwhile, I'll be out of town this particular weekend, so enjoy today's entries and we'll see you next on Monday...
Two Weeks and Three Days to Go
The first cuts have been made - and some strong impressions have been made as well - since my last 25-man roster analysis February 24.
Among other things, Guillermo Mota didn’t do Larry Barnes or his batting cohorts any favors. If he makes the team, he will probably start the season on suspension. That makes the Dodgers more likely to keep a 12th pitcher to avoid blowing out their pitching staff in the first week. (By the way, Ross Newhan quite effectively covers just about all the angles on the Mota-Mike Piazza incident in the Times today - I really don't have much to add on that front.)
Anyway, the way the roster stacks up, it does feel like a trade is waiting to be made, doesn’t it? We’ll see. Until then, I have to operate with the assumption that what you see is what you get. Here goes:
Starting Pitchers (5): Odalis Perez, Hideo Nomo, Kevin Brown, Kazuhisa Ishii, Darren Dreifort
Bullpen (6): Eric Gagne, Paul Quantill, Paul Shuey, Giovanni Carrara, Guillermo Mota, Andy Ashby
Starting Lineup (8): Dave Roberts, Paul Lo Duca, Shawn Green, Brian Jordan, Fred McGriff, Adrian Beltre, Joe Thurston, Cesar Izturis
Bench (4): Mike Kinkade, Daryle Ward, Alex Cora, Todd Hundley
Most Likely to Succeed (2)
Wilson Alvarez, LHP: He hasn’t answered any long-term questions, diminishing the possibility that the Dodgers want to pay him major-league money from the get-go. He is guaranteed $750,000 if he makes the team. But the Mota incident changed everything. My guess is that if a suspended Mota’s on the roster March 31, Alvarez will be as well.
Jolbert Cabrera, IF/OF: He was destined to make the team or hit the waiver wire, but sounds like he’s had the spring he’s needed. He’s not a name pick like Ron Coomer, but he’s got versatility, and tenure – he’s been with the Dodgers for months!
Strong Shot (2)
Ron Coomer, 1B/3B: I just had a feeling he’d make this unreasonably difficult. The fact that he’s said he won’t accept a minor-league assignment might or might not have been a ploy, but it was effective, enough to move him ahead of Larry Barnes. Only Coomer's inability to play center – and Mota - is keeping him off the team now. However it goes, I predict he hits more homers in the exhibitions than in the regular season.
Troy Brohawn, LHP: Another potential Mota beneficiary. Hasn’t pitched himself out of the running yet, and Alvarez is an expensive “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”
See You Midseason? (14)
Larry Barnes, 1B/LF: Has emerged as the sentimental favorite. But look how many people already play first base: McGriff, Kinkade, Ward, Hundley, Lo Duca, Green, not to mention Coomer. Four of those guys bat lefty. It’s impressive Barnes is even being considered.
Jason Romano, IF/OF: Just an age/experience thing with him and Cabrera. Romano has minor-league options remaining.
David Ross, C: His health, and the strong springs that so many fringe players have had, have left him behind, but with Hundley’s history, I still think we might see him before April is out.
Steve Colyer, LHP: His youth and remaining options work against him. He’s probably the best candidate for the No. 12 slot.
Chin-Feng Chen, 1B/LF: Reopened some eyes with a great spring. Wait for Jordan to go on the DL.
Koyie Hill, C: Still promising. If Ross continues to battle injuries, he can play leapfrog.
Chad Hermansen, OF: The hole – I mean, the DL –calls.
Wilkin Ruan, OF: A quiet but productive spring. His chance will come.
Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP: Heir apparent to Mota’s young fireballer role.
Victor Alvarez, LHP: If Ishii gets hurt?
Lindsay Gulin, LHP: If Ishii and Alvarez get hurt?
Chris Clapinski, IF: Every time I looked up, this guy was making an error. Low on the depth chart.
Calvin Maduro, RHP: Filler for Las Vegas
Rodney Myers, RHP. Ditto.
Toeing the Waiver Wire (4)
Calvin Murray, OF: Barnes outhit him to steal the sentimental favorite slot.
Quilvio Veras, 2B: It’s not too late for him, but it’s a real uphill battle.
Terry Shumpert, IF/OF: No buzz about him, and there are too many younger candidates.
Tom Martin, LHP: Too injury-prone.
Pedro Borbon, Jr., LHP: Pedro Borbon, Sr. is always available.
Yorkis Perez, LHP: Carlos is always available.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Phil Rogers and Mike DiGiovanna write that because the Cubs had a losing record once Fred McGriff joined the team, maybe McGriff isn’t a winner.
Jim Tracy says that because the Baltimore Orioles had a winning record with weak-hitting Mark Belanger at shortstop, then your shortstop doesn’t have to hit for you to be successful.
Do any of these people know the difference between correlation and causation?
I don’t know that Alex Cora is so much better than Cesar Izturis that he should be starting for the Dodgers in 2003, or that choosing one over the other will make a huge difference. But if you’re going to put the worst-hitting player in baseball in your starting lineup, which Izturis would have been last year with just a few more plate appearances to qualify, at least have a better justification than “Mark Belanger couldn’t hit.”
For better or worse, the Dodgers think Izturis is their shortstop for the long-term. That’s a good reason to play him. That’s the justification. Putting forward the idea that his as-yet undeveloped hitting skills are irrelevant – that’s no justification.
That said, I think that although Cora is depressed about Tracy's Belanger comment, he will get his chances this season.
It's been a long time since something in the news has amazed me and filled me with wonder as much as the safe return of Elizabeth Smart. I'm just blown away, and very happy for her and her family.
'Try Reasoning With Him'
No truth to the rumor that the hostilities between Mike Piazza and Guillermo Mota started last year with Piazza taunting, "Baby talk, baby talk, it's a wonder you can walk."
(It's a Brady Bunch reference. I want to use it, but feel impelled to clarify it because I used a different one at my softball game Sunday and the person I was talking to didn't watch the show and didn't get it. What kind of world are we coming to when you can't use a Brady Bunch reference with any confidence?)
Mota's got a blazing fastball and a 1.29 ERA with nine strikeouts and two walks (and one hit batter, of course) in seven innings this spring. That's very good. And it had better be, because he's the last man on the pitching staff, and I don't know how long teams will let you hold that job if every so often you're going to be suspended and held out of road trips.
It's not like Mota hit Barry Bonds. He hit a guy that many Dodger fans still worship - the prodigal son that hasn't returned. When Mota comes into a game in Dodger Stadium, I don't get the sense people are going to rally around him too much. Games against the Mets may sell out, though.
Anyway ... not that I live in a Brady Bunch world, but it seems like someone should really get Piazza, Mota and managers Art Howe and Jim Tracy in a room together, supervised, and just settle this like grownups. Does it serve anyone's interest to let a situation linger where two major league baseball players can't even be in the same city?
Piazza's got a beef - he's been hit by Mota two years in a row. Mota's got a beef - how mature was it for Piazza to go after Mota as he was walking away from the Mets' dugout toward the exits at Vero Beach last year and start grabbing his neck? Sure, if Mota hit Piazza with the pitch intentionally, Mota's in the wrong and should be punished. But you have to deal with the residual anger.
I know there are people who go to the ballpark who look forward to fights breaking out, but I'm telling you, with the injuries and suspensions, it ain't worth it. Just make peace. Believe me, these days, we need all the peace we can get.
Probably, though, it'll just fester. The Dodgers finish their stretch of six games with the Mets in seven days with the Mexico City trip this weekend, then don't play New York again until May 6. By then, Mota will have probably proven his value to the team, one way or another. And then, we'll just see...
P.S. I just watched the video. Two comments:
1) Mets general manager Steve Phillips' contention in the press that "the catcher set up inside, way inside, on both pitches, and it was pretty clear the catcher knew that Mota was going after him" isn't borne out. David Ross set up on the inside corner of the plate, low, where you would set up any number of times during a game. The pitch came in about two feet higher and two feet further inside.
2) When Piazza gets angry, his eyes are freakin' wide. You really have to see it. (Four minutes of footage is available at MLB.com.)
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
The Meaning of the Game
A guy named Bill Simms sent me an e-mail yesterday which contained the following:
You and I are about the same age, so we probably share some great memories of a time when we were younger (so the game meant more) and the Dodgers were what the Dodgers should be.
The game meant more.
Strange that of all the things he wrote in the letter, I would fixate on the words in parentheses.
I wrote Bill back, saying, “In some ways, the game meant more to me when I was younger, but in other ways, enduring the Dodgers' post-1988 struggles has left me perhaps even more invested.”
My earliest baseball memory is seeing Hank Aaron’s 715th home run on television in April 1974. I was 6½ years old. Although I have no memories that precede that one, I do recall that Aaron hit that home run against the team I was rooting for: the Dodgers. So my allegiance to the team goes back even further.
For the next 15 seasons, the Dodgers finished first in the NL West six times and in second place four times. They never went more than three seasons without a postseason appearance. There were disappointments, but rather quickly there was a feeling that the disappointments wouldn’t last very long.
At the same time, my childhood was happy as well. I did not want for much. Not that it was completely carefree, but I knew that I had it pretty good.
I graduated from college less than a year after Kirk Gibson’s home run. And in a sense, the Dodgers and I entered the real world together.
It wasn’t apparent right away. By the end of 1989, I had a full-time job as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News – in fact, I would prat around in my own head, adapting the lingo of the profession to brag to myself that I was “the youngest full-time sportswriter in Los Angeles.”
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had their little two-season hiccup. Fourth place in 1989, second place in 1990. But in 1991, the timetable stated, the Dodgers would be back.
Instead, the Giants eliminated them on the last day of the season, and this team out of nowhere, with no pedigree for winning, the Atlanta Braves, came out of nowhere to win the division.
Around the same time, the Daily News hired a reporter named Marc Stein. Marc’s a good guy – you might know him now as a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. But back then, like the Braves, Marc, well, infringed upon my timetable. He was now the youngest full-time sportswriter in Los Angeles, and much to my surprise, that actually seemed to mean something to our boss. He started to get plum assignments, and I started getting passed over.
In 1992, I did exactly what I now chide the Dodgers for doing. I got impatient, and I made a big move. I left the paper.
I left for graduate school at Georgetown, and I will say my degree was a much more worthwhile investment than Delino DeShields or Carlos Perez was for the Dodgers. But from that time on – more than 10 years ago now – the Dodgers and I have essentially become the Cubs. Some little successes, some hopes, but more questionable decisions and, certainly, no World Series.
In about the mid-1990s, after it became clear how awful the DeShields-Pedro Martinez trade was, I started to conjecture that the Dodgers really could become the Cubs – that a journey to 100 years of mediocrity can begin with a single step. Subsequently, I started to think that I might be following the same path. I’m a published writer, and people (some of them, anyway) have enjoyed my work. But I don’t feel like I really made it to the champagne celebration in the locker room.
I’m very happy these days – I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful baby, and you won’t catch me regretting the choices I made that allowed those things to happen. But I do have frustrations, and those frustrations, I’ve come to realize, are played out each time the Dodgers do something. Anything. I’m not just talking about the 162 games; I’m talking about the offseason trades and the decisions to replace the dirt warning track with rubber and the removal of the sandwich station on the Club level of Dodger Stadium. I was raised in an easier time, where things were more often right than wrong, and I haven’t shed my addiction to that time. I want things with the Dodgers to be right. That, essentially, is the genesis of this website – to deal with that want.
I think what it is, is that when I was younger, the games were more fun. They were carefree. Now, they do seem to mean more to me. They carry this weight. And now, it’s been so long since the Dodgers have been a winner, I can’t imagine anymore what it will be like to celebrate that. I hope I enjoy the glory, if it ever comes, as much as I’ve suffered the pain. I think maybe I will.
My Dad, by the way, grew up in Chicago and attended the Cubs’ last World Series in 1945. He roots for the Dodgers and the Cubs, and has also never gotten a foul ball, while I’ve snagged four. So, I’ve just got to remember – it’s all about perspective.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Kevin Modesti’s column today in the Daily News on a series of Dodger clubhouse incidents involving Andy Ashby, Jim Colborn and reporters is really worth a read. The tale has a Rashomon quality to it.
And before you go, look - a major league baseball team is making money! (See my March 5 entry for context.)
Not Very Newsworthy
No doubt it works out for the accountants, but otherwise, the move of the Dodgers’ radio broadcasts to KFWB this year makes no sense.
The biggest reason isn’t really a baseball one. KFWB and KNX are the two 24-hour news stations in Los Angeles. For years, every night at 9 or 10 p.m., KNX has broken from its news coverage to present the KNX Drama Hour, a rotating collection of old-time radio shows like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Third Man.” That means that when the Dodgers are on the air at night, there will be nowhere on the radio to find news coverage.
Beyond that, you have KFWB presenting no Dodger broadcasts of Spring Training games on weekdays, breaking a tradition that is older than me. And I doubt we can expect much pregame and postgame material, even when the season starts. (Although maybe that’s a good thing.)
In any case, news is clearly more valuable to KFWB – for reasons that are easy to understand. So with more sports stations than news stations in this city, I can’t understand why the Dodgers would move to a place where they’re a low priority. Must’ve been one heck of a deal.
Brooks Kieschnick is trying to make the Milwaukee Brewers as a relief pitcher/backup outfielder. Wayward pitcher Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals is also getting Spring Training work as a pinch hitter.
Could Darren “Slash” Dreifort be the one who officially makes the pitcher/hitter a trend?
Dreifort’s double-duty exploits at Wichita State are a wee legend. He batted .318 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI in 314 at-bats, in addition to going 26-5 with 17 saves and a 2.24 ERA. With the Dodgers, he hit two home runs in a game against the Cubs on August 8, 2000, and has six homers in 223 career at-bats.
For about half my life, I’ve been thinking that players like Dreifort and John Olerud, who was a star pitcher for Washington State, have been pigeonholed to quickly in their careers. I understand it’s hard enough to master one set of skills, let alone two sets, but it’s been hard for me to believe that no one in the majors can do it.
Anyway, with the new interest in the idea thanks to Kieschnick and Ankiel, I took a closer look at Dreifort’s batting record in preparation to promote his candidacy. And you know what? It doesn’t really look like he’s the guy.
Dreifort’s batting average has declined in each of the last four years he played (1998-2001). He’s never had a seasonal OPS over .600. Even with extensive batting practice, even if he is truly healthy, it stretches credibility to imagine that Dreifort could raise his hitting skills to the point of being more than an emergency batsman. There are many better hitting pitchers out there today.
Too bad. It looks like he’s going to have to earn that salary on the mound.
(By the way, I’m not sure that Kieschnick is going to be one of those better-hitting pitchers, either. Of course, he still hasn’t pitched in an official major-league game yet. And as a full-time hitter, his career OPS is only .702. The good news is that he’s only had 192 plate appearances; the bad news is that it’s taken him past the age of 30 to get them. Make no mistake, though, I’ll be rooting for him.)
Monday, March 10, 2003
Outside of Dodgertown
One time, my Dad predicted that Marcus Allen would rush for 243 yards in a game - and got it exactly right. Best prediction of the 1980s.
One time, at a bar, I bet my good friend John Egan a dollar, at 100-to-1 odds, what song the band would play next. He called "Twist and Shout" - and won the bet. Best prediction of the 1990s.
I think we have a winner of the award for the 2000s. On March 4, Will Carroll wrote the following on Baseball Prospectus:
Simply stated, Phil Nevin is reaching a point where injuries and an exceptionally odd career path have taken some sort of toll. Last year, Nevin suffered through two arm injuries that may or may not be connected. Nevin was initially out with a strained elbow and returned, only to break his humerus near the shoulder. The injury was initially believed to be a bruised muscle, but an MRI broke the bad news. Nevin's had a history of shoulder problems and even after his return, Nevin was clearly not at full strength. Reports coming from San Diego have Nevin still not at full strength. Add in a positional change to left field, a push past the prime years, and a history of injury, and suddenly Nevin becomes not a feared hitter, but a risky player that you don't want to build a team around. I'll either look like a genius or moron with this, but I expect Nevin to have some sort of season-ending injury in the early stages of the season.
Three days later, Nevin dove for a ball, dislocated his shoulder, and will miss the entire 2003 season.
The other non-Dodger comment I wanted to make was on Garret Anderson. In response to a question he often gets, about why he so rarely dives for balls, Anderson told the Bill Plaschke of the Times, "I study hitters. I have an idea of where the ball is going. I don't dive because I don't have to."
The same line of thinking was attributed to Joe DiMaggio. To me, this defies credibility. The ball doesn't always go where it's supposed to. Are we to believe that every ball that Anderson has not caught landed 10 feet away from him? Are we to believe that Darin Erstad dives for balls because he has no idea where they're going to go?
Look, I like Anderson. My first feature as a full-time reporter for the Daily News was a story on a hot-shooting Kennedy High School basketball player, who also had done some good stuff on the diamond, named Garret Anderson. I have fond memories of him from a long time ago. He's not all-everything, he doesn't walk much, but he has some great skills and seems like a decent guy.
But I think he needs to come up with a new explanation. Or admit he's just saving himself. Because just like in boxing, everyone's got to take a dive once in a while.
A Shallow Defensive Analysis
You still don't hear the "Defense, Defense" cheer at baseball games, but improved play in the field was one of the reasons the Dodgers were able to scratch out their 92 wins last season.
The team set a franchise record by making only 90 errors. Admittedly, errors are only a part of the whole fielding picture - they don't reflect the balls that the Dodgers didn't get to. But still, making fewer errors is better than making a whole mess of 'em.
Will defense continue to be an asset for the Dodgers? Let's try taking an unscientific look.
Outfield: Dodger outfielders made 11 errors last season: Marquis Grissom 4, Brian Jordan 4, Shawn Green 2, Hiram Bocachica 1. Dave Roberts made none in 257 chances. Roberts will get more time in center this year with Grissom gone, but left field is probably more vulnerable with Jordan being backed up by Mike Kinkade and Daryle Ward. Call it even, and continue to beware of tough balls hit to left that will go for doubles.
Third base: Adrian Beltre 20, Dave Hansen 2, Jolbert Cabrera 1. Beltre's rep is that he makes errors on the easy plays and nails the tough ones. He also was involved in fewer double plays per game last year in previous years. Still, fielding is considered a strength for him - he stays in the lineup even when he's not hitting. But just like with his hitting, we are wondering whether this will be the year it really all comes together for him. I say it will be, and predict some improvement.
Shortstop: Cesar Izturis 10, Alex Cora 5, Jeff Reboulet 2. This is the Dodgers' strongest defensive position. Izturis is a natural, and if he can hit enough to stay in the lineup, that's a good sign for the defense. Even if he can't, Cora is capable.
Second base: Mark Grudzielanek 7, Cora 2, Reboulet 2. Grudz and Eric Karros had shockingly low error totals - they were two main reasons the Dodgers set their record. But Cora often replaced Grudzielanek in the late innings for defensive reasons last year, indicating what Jim Tracy thought of the range of the soon-to-be-a-Cub. The thing is, Joe Thurston doesn't figure to be that much better. If Thurston hits - which is more important - this could be a place where the Dodgers backslide.
First base: Karros 4, Tyler Houston 2, Paul Lo Duca 1. Karros was a lackidasical fielder, league-leading fielding percentage or not. Fred McGriff's reputation is worse, though. A few more errors here for first base, and maybe a few more for the other infielders as well.
Catcher: Lo Duca 8, Chad Kreuter 3. The bigger issue for Lo Duca is whether he can improve upon his poor stats throwing out runners, and his 12 passed balls. The guess here is that he will do on the former, if not the latter. But replacing Kreuter with Todd Hundley will put a lot more defensive stress behind the plate. For the third position in a row, look for some overall dropoff.
Pitcher: Hideo Nomo 4, Odalis Perez 2, Andy Ashby 1, Kevin Brown 1, Kazuhisa Ishii 1, Terry Mulholland 1. This spot always seems like a fielding crapshoot to me.
Overall, the Dodgers defense looks slightly but not substantially weaker. It's enough that it could make a difference in a few games, but not enough to reverse the help that improved hitting and healthier pitching could provide. The Dodgers have won titles with worse defenses - back when the Dodgers used to win titles.
I'd still watch those error totals in April. If they are making more than three a week, I might start to worry.
Sunday, March 09, 2003
15 Minutes of, Well, Not Fame, but Something
I got the 2003 Dodger Media Guide on Sunday. I decided to give myself 15 minutes to pull 15 interesting facts from it. (I'm going to allow myself to proofread my results after I'm done.)
0:00 The Dodgers' last trade with the Angels was Orlando Alvarez for Ellie Rodriguez, March 21, 1976. (Page 213)
1:02 The Montreal Expos are the only visiting team that stays in a hotel in Glendale. Figures they'd be rebels. (Page 202)
1:31 Wilkin Ruan's boyhood hero is was Vladimir Guerrero. How young is this guy? (Page 136)
2:30 Shawn Green is a career .333 hitter in major league games played at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. (Page 74)
3:39 The only time the L.A. Dodgers have pitched a one-hitter where the hit came in the ninth inning was August 4, 1963, when Johnny Podres and Larry Sherry combined to one-hit Houston. (Page 330)
4:26 Jose Offerman holds the L.A. single-season sacrifice hit record with 25 in 1993. (Page 326)
5:20 Phelbitis is an inflamamtion of a vein. (Page 374)
5:55 Mike Kinkaide's son's name is Kameron with a K. (Page 95)
6:40 Andy Ashby batted .244 for San Diego in 1996. (Page 36).
7:15 Since his debut with Elizabethton in 1983 (0-1, 20.25 ERA), Yorkis Perez has played for teams in 24 different cities. (Page 161)
9:10 The picture of a guy batting on Fred McGriff's page is wearing a Los Angeles road uniform. When did they take (or doctor) that picture? (Page 104)
10:36 The Dodger minor league home run record is 44, shared by Greg Brock and Phil Hiatt. (Page 262)
11:07 There is now at least one Dodger minor leaguer born after I graduated high school. Concepcion Garcia, December 8, 1985. (Page 264).
12:01 Hiram Bocachica led the Dodgers in pinch-hit home runs last season with two. (Page 176).
12:54 Gary Sheffield is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodger all-time slugging percentage leader at .573, just ahead of Mike Piazza at .572 (Page 315).
13:36 Casey Stengel holds the Dodger record for most hits in a debut with four, September 17, 1912. (Page 314)
14:13 Vance Lovelace, once a terrible starting pitcher for the Dodgers in a year where they just couldn't find a No. 5 starter, is a Dodger scout. (Page 236)
14:56 The - oh, time's up.
Hey - 17. Not bad!
I looked up Vance Lovelace's stats after the challenge. He never pitched for the Dodgers. He only pitched for the Angels and Mariners. I remember his career got derailed somehow, but I guess it happened before he made it to the majors with L.A. I'm gonna dock myself half a point for that mistake.
Terry Wells! That was the guy. 1-2, 7.84 ERA in 1990. Man. It took me another 15 minutes to find him.