Friday, March 21, 2003
Talk about getting knocked off your pedestal. My chances of being the biggest Jon Weisman in baseball, both literally and figuratively, have bit the dust.
Maybe I can still be the biggest righty Jon Weisman in the game.
Parsing Andy Ashby
His strapping 6-foot-1 frame twisting in the breeze, the bullpen looks like the destination for the man with a 17.47 ERA in 5 2/3 exhibition innings.
And so Andy Ashby dangles through the spring like a misplaced participle.
With six starting pitchers on the roster, someone has to go to the bullpen. Seems like it might as well be Ashby, but with the health of the Dodger pitching staff still unsettled, he might get his starts. Is there any hope that he'll be effective this year?
Just last season, Ashby had a 3.91 ERA in 181 2/3 innings. On the other hand, he struggled with his health in September, lasting only 11 1/3 innings and generating a 7.94 ERA.
I've counseled many times in this space that Spring Training statistics need to be discounted as much as possible. But to further investigate that point, I dug up the stats of the Dodgers' worst starting pitchers in Spring Training over the past four seasons, and how they performed in the regular season:
2002: Kazuhisa Ishii
Previous season: in Japan
Spring Training: 8 1/3 innings, 12.96 ERA
April: 29 2/3 innings, 3.03 ERA
Regular season total: 154 innings, 4.27 ERA
2001: Chan Ho Park
Previous season: 226 innings, 3.27 ERA
Spring Training: 21 innings, 6.43 ERA
April: 39 2/3 innings, 3.63 ERA
Regular season total: 234 innings, 3.50 ERA
2000: Eric Gagne
Previous season: 30 innings, 2.10 ERA
Spring Training: 12 2/3 innings, 15.63 ERA
April: 15 1/3 innings, 4.11 ERA
Regular season total: 101 1/3 innings, 5.15 ERA
1999: Carlos Perez
Previous season: 241 innings, 3.59 ERA
Spring Training: 28 1/3 innings, 5.72 ERA
April: 24 1/3 innings, 5.55 ERA
Regular season total: 89 2/3 innings, 7.43 ERA
So what do we find? All four pitchers improved their exhibition ERAs in April. Three of the four did so dramatically.
That said, only Park went on to have what was really a good season. Ishii was okay, I guess, but had deceptively positive numbers - he was erratic almost the entire year. Gagne struggled in that battle of days-gone-by to become a consistent starter. And the 1999 season of Perez, of course, became the stuff of legend.
Perez remains an interesting story to me. As you may recall, Perez pitched very well for the Dodgers when acquired in the summer of 1998, and was signed to a three-year contract extension by Kevin Malone. Among the reasons for the extension were the four complete games he threw in September 1998, including two shutouts.
I attended Perez's first start of 1999. It was against the Colorado Rockies, and Perez led, 1-0, after six innings. Perez gave up hits to Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla in the seventh inning. Dodger manager Davey Johnson does not have anyone warm up in the bullpen. Keep in mind, we're just a week out of Spring Training.
Todd Helton then hits a three-run home run. Still, no one warms up. In fact, Perez would give up a fourth run - and though finally someone got up in the bullpen, no replacement entered the game that inning. Perez finished the seventh, and was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the inning.
I felt strongly, throughout the top of the seventh, that Johnson nonsensically was risking more than a game - he was risking a pitcher. Of course, the previous night, Ismael Valdes had gone 7 2/3 innings in a victory over Arizona. Perhaps Johnson thought the Dodger staff was bionic in 1999. On the other hand, Johnson certainly had a rested bullpen to use.
Perez gave up six earned runs in each of his next two starts. He recovered to throw seven innings of one-run ball in his fourth start, so maybe there isn't a connection. But Perez never got it together after that, finishing with that awful ERA you see above, and so that fourth start seems more like a fluke.
Maybe Perez was destined to implode that season - and I'm certainly not going to say that the huge contract Perez got could be justified. But you'd think with that contract, Johnson would have been more careful. I've always wondered whether he might have ruined Perez's career in that seventh inning on April 8.
If there's a lesson here for today, that lesson is not to give up on Ashby just yet - but to handle him with care.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Don't be surprised if Joe Thurston, previously considered a lock for the team, starts the season in the minor leagues. His spring has underwhelmed the Dodgers so far, and they might think sending him down will allow him to get his fire or game or whatever back.
In addition, with the Guillermo Mota uncertainty, sending Thurston to the minors would extend the Dodgers' roster flexibility, allowing them to hang on to a guy like Larry Barnes or (gulp) Terry Shumpert or (gulllllllp) Ron Coomer a little longer.
Chris Hamilton and Bill Simms both e-mailed me similar responses to my March 17 piece on the Dodgers' increased salary flexibility this postseason, that are worth passing along. They each noted that a good amount of money will need to go to raises for Eric Gagne and Odalis Perez, as well as (and they both used similar qualifiers) Adrian Beltre if he finally has a big year. Neither thinks that the Dodgers will make a big play for Tejada.
I wonder if Tejada will even have a good enough year to justify all this speculation. He may well have moved past Derek Jeter in the top tier of major-league shortstops, but I think that's more a reflection of how much Jeter has been slipping.
Kevin Brown Crow Update
Yep, all of the major papers today sung the praises of Kevin Brown's great Spring Training. Nope, none mentioned the controversy of his controversial Spring Training reporting date.
If it's not an issue now, it shouldn't have been an issue then. If Brown were pitching poorly or were injured now, you know people would be talking about his early-but-still-late arrival.
I'm going to take a closer look at the NL West race next week. If Brown is still feeling good by then, I think I may find the Dodgers have a chance to win this thing. Or I might find that even with a healthy Brown, the Dodgers still don't have enough offense.
Fine-Tuning the Playoffs
Though others have been converted, I'm still not in favor of the wild card. And I say that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited Angels' run through the playoffs last year. To me, a great pennant race is still supreme. And I'm willing to let a 100-win second-place team miss the playoffs in order to preserve that.
That said, Tom Verducci reported a new wild-card proposal on SI.com this week that I think has a lot of merit. Since the wild-card is never going to go away, I'm going to put in my support for this idea.
1. Each league gets two wild-card teams -- that is, the two non-division winners with the best records advance to the playoffs, as opposed to the current system in which only one wild card is awarded.
2. The two wild cards face off in a one-game playoff the day after the regular season ends. The winner advances to play one of the division champs in a Division Series, with the rest of the playoffs proceeding as currently set up.
As Verducci points out, not only would this winner-take-all wild card give teams a needed extra incentive to win their divisions, but it would also put the winning wild-card team at a disadvantage in the next round of the playoffs, because they will have needed to use a good pitcher just to get there. This all makes sense.
I also think the wild-card playoff game is a good way to jump-start the excitement of the playoffs - like a snappy cold opening on a TV show before the opening credits and first act begin.
Verducci says that another option that is more in favor right now is to extend the first round of the playoffs from best-of-five to best-of-seven. While this does reduce the chance of a wild-card team with one or two hot starters trumping a more balanced division winner, I don't think it addresses the problems with the current playoff structure as efficiently as the wild-card single-game playoff does.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
A Mainstream Advance for OPS
OPS has crossed over. This week, it makes what might be its first appearance in a mainstream news magazine: Newsweek. The headline and subhead read:
Forget about batting average—that’s so over. Today’s big-leaguers are measured by fancier formulas
The article is very much on the introductory level, but definitely serves its purpose of making people aware of the limits of traditional statistics.
From the article:
Only a few teams have fully embraced the stats revolution and some remain adamantly opposed. Seattle GM Pat Gillick, who has built powerhouse teams in several cities, insisted, “We’re not on OPS yet,” adding, “Frankly, I don’t know how much more technology we need in our lives.”
Could OPS actually be the straw that breaks the too-much-technology camel's back. Lights, radio, television - all okay? OPS - too much?
Something tells me it's okay to get on board, Pat.
In fact, it's definitely time for the local media to follow Newsweek's lead. Vin, are you listening?
The Crow Flies at Night
Kevin Brown against the Expos on Wednesday: six innings, three hits, no walks, eight strikeouts, 69 pitches.
Yes, it's still Spring Training. No, this doesn't mean he is going to be sound all season. But with a spring ERA of 0.56, you don't hear anyone these days questioning Brown's decision to arrive in Vero Beach after most of his teammates - and the questioning was pretty ferocious last month. What will the Thursday morning papers have to say about this? Will they recall the doubts of February, or will they stay silent?
In February, I took the time to point out that though Brown was not late for Spring Training - but then added that given his recent injury history, maybe he needed to be as early as the rest of his teammates. So for the time being, I deserve my little share of crow.
In the spirit of hoping for the best for Brown and the Dodgers, I'll start eating now. I'll spit it out if fortunes reverse somehow (like if he wakes up Thursday with a sore back).
What does the Opening Day roster mean? What does it look like by the time the season’s over?
I decided to track each of the spots from the 2002 Dodger roster and see what happened from Opening Day through September 1, when rosters expanded.
…Brown went on disabled list April 15, replaced by Guillermo Mota
…Mota optioned to Las Vegas, Brown reinstated April 30
…Brown went on disabled list May 27, replaced by Brian Corey
…Corey placed on disabled list June 4, Mulholland reinstated
…Mulholland traded to Cleveland July 28, replaced by Paul Shuey
…Carrara placed on disabled list August 15, replaced by Brown
…went on disabled list May 11, replaced by Jeff Williams
…Williams optioned May 25, replaced by Dennis Springer
…Springer designated for assignment May 29, Orosco reinstated
…Orosco went on disabled list May 16, replaced by Mota
…Mota optioned July 28, replaced by Victor Alvarez
…Alvarez optioned August 2, replaced by Kevin Beirne
…Beirne outrighted to Vero Beach August 26, replaced by Mota
…Kreuter placed on disabled list June 28, replaced by David Ross
…Ross optioned to Las Vegas July 12, replaced by Kreuter
…Bocachica traded to Detroit July 25, Tyler Houston comes in trade with Milwaukee
…Reboulet placed on disabled list July 21, replaced by Mike Kinkade
…Jordan placed on disabled list August 24, replaced by Jolbert Cabrera
Of the 25 Opening Day slots, 17 saw no turnover during the season. Ten out of 15 position player slots stayed the same, and seven out of 11 pitchers.
Of the eight slots that saw turnover, four of them had only one roster move. There was one slot with two roster moves, another with three, another with four and another with five.
Overall, the Dodgers used 35 players for the 25-man roster: 17 pitchers in 11 slots and 18 position players in 14 slots.
That’s a pretty steady roster in my mind. Of course, what separates my website from better ones is that I’m not taking this a step further, and doing an exhaustive study to compare this turnover to that of other teams.
One conclusion I will draw: Dodger regulars stayed remarkably healthy last year. No starter went on the disabled list until Jordan took his sabbatical August 24.
Here’s how it went in 2001. Because hitters were replaced by pitchers and vice-versa, I’m not dividing the roster by position:
…Grudzielanek went on disabled list June 12, replaced by Jeff Williams
…Williams optioned to Las Vegas August 1, replaced by Mike Trombley
…Gagne optioned to Las Vegas June 12, replaced by Jeff Branson
…Branson optioned to Las Vegas June 28, replaced by Grudzielanek
…Bocachica went on disabled list July 13, replaced by McKay Christensen
…Christensen sent to Las Vegas July 15, replaced by Gagne
…Goodwin went on disabled list July 21, replaced by Christensen
…Christensen optioned to Las Vegas August 15, replaced by Bruce Aven
…Ashby went on disabled list April 18, replaced by Luke Prokopec
…Prokopec went on disabled list August 9, replaced by Goodwin
…Bogar went on disabled list April 5, replaced by Phil Hiatt
…Hiatt optioned to Las Vegas April 26, replaced by Dave Hansen
…LoDuca went on disabled list May 2, replaced by Brian Johnson
…Johnson optioned to Las Vegas May 12, replaced by Adrian Beltre
…Donnels went on disabled list May 21, replaced by LoDuca
…optioned to Las Vegas April 10, replaced by Kevin Brown
…Brown went on disabled list June 4, replaced by Donnels
…Donnels outrighted to Las Vegas July 20, replaced by Aven
…Aven optioned to Las Vegas July 28, replaced by Bocachica
…Olson designated for assignment June 23, replaced by Al Reyes
…Reyes designated for assignment August 25, replaced by Prokopec
…Prokopec optioned to Las Vegas August 30, replaced by Hiatt
…Fetters went on disabled list June 24, replaced by Brown
…Brown went on disabled list July 18, replaced by Dennis Springer
…Springer optioned to Las Vegas July 26, replaced by James Baldwin
…Dreifort went on disabled list June 30, replaced by Bogar
…Bogar went on disabled list July 4, replaced by Gagne
…Gagne optioned to Las Vegas July 5, replaced by Fetters
…Fetters traded to Pittsburgh July 31, replaced by Terry Mulholland
…Nunez designated for assignment May 8, replaced by Giovanni Carrara
Chan Ho Park
…Karros went on disabled list May 25, replaced by Jesse Orosco
…Orosco went on disabled list august 19, replaced by Williams
…Williams optioned to Las Vegas August 28, replaced by Brown
…Pena designated for assignment June 8, replaced by Sheffield
…Sheffield went on disabled list May 28, replaced by Bogar
…Bogar went on disabled list June 15, replaced by Karros
What a mess. Only nine roster spots held it together, compared to 17 a year later. Overall, the Dodgers used 42 players for the 25-man roster in 2001, seven more than in 2002.
So it goes both ways. The roster you see March 31 could basically be the bunch you’ll be following all season. Or by the end of the season, many of the names from Opening Day might be forgotten.
A lot of work for a pretty banal conclusion, I suppose. I guess I was just interested in the idea of how much you can dance with the guys that brung ya.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Lull and Void
I’m growing impatient with all the little questions.
Like when our No. 11 pitcher will serve his suspension.
Like who will be the 25th man on the roster.
And I’m not too enthralled with some of the big questions, like how a coming war will affect the sanctuary that is baseball.
And I don't even want to deal with the even bigger questions, like how a coming war will affect ... everything.
I can’t quite believe we still have almost two weeks to go. This fifth week of Spring Training has become like the fifth hour of a Super Bowl pregame show.
I’m ready. I want to see the team on the field. It’s time for the Game to start.
Instead … the Dodgers are off today. Not even an exhibition to look forward to.
Sigh. Time for a commercial break.
Monday, March 17, 2003
Money to Burn
Having remained largely dormant in the free-agent market this past offseason, the Dodger load of salary commitments will begin to lighten after the games of 2003 are over.
Here are some names that will be off the books:
(Salary information taken from the 2003 Baseball Prospectus yearbook and this site.)
Brian Jordan: $6.5 million ($9 million salary minus $2.5 million buyout for 2004)
Hideo Nomo: $6.5 million ($8 million salary minus $1.5 million buyout for 2004)
Andy Ashby: $8 million
Fred McGriff: $3.75 million
Total: $24.75 million
Here are some names for 2004:
Todd Hundley: $6.5 million
Paul Quantrill: approximately $3 million
Paul Shuey: approximately $4 million
Total: $13.5 million
In 2005, there’s you-know-who:
Kevin Brown $15 million
Darren Dreifort $13 million
not to mention Shawn Green ($16 million)
Total: $44 million
Few of those players need to be resigned, and none at their current value unless Nomo’s arm truly becomes bionic, which is not going to happen. So in November 2003, the Dodgers can begin climbing out of their financial hole.
There isn’t much point in predicting what they’ll do before the 2003 season begins. But this weekend’s news that the Oakland A’s do not plan to resign shortstop Miguel Tejada figures to get a lot of people thinking. I know it got me thinking.
No big-budget team has a greater shortstop need than the Dodgers, and few need as much help from the right-side of the plate. There is talk that the Yankees would go after Tejada, perhaps moving him or Derek Jeter to third base, but my guess is that New York will be more interested in signing outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.
Tejada, who will turn 27 in May, had an OPS of .861 while playing in all 162 games last year.
His EQA, which adjusts for park effects and such, was .297 (against a major-league average of .260). By comparison, Alex Rodriguez, who is 27 now, had an EQA of .334 in 2002 in 162 games. Alex Cora, also 27, had an EQA of .291 in much more limited playing time in 2002.
Let me state unequivocally that despite the similarity in EQA to Cora’s, Tejada would strengthen the Dodgers immeasurably. It’s almost embarrassing to put Tejada and Cora in the same sentence.
But I do so for a reason. This fall, the Dodgers will have some salary breathing room for the first time in a while. They must resist the temptation, compounded by the caterwauling from fans, to be so enthralled with a free agent that they overpay, and start the cycle of salary imprisonment all over again.
Yes, they can take a bit of the risk that marked the late 1990s, but they should also retain a bit of the conservatism that marked 2002.
Tejada has power. He plays the toughest defensive position on the field. But although he hit for average (.308) last year, he needs to prove he can do it again. And he doesn’t walk. He could be awesome, or he could be Raul Mondesi.
Tejada deserves a contract that accounts for this current financial era and that accounts for his limitations as well as his strengths.
To the Dodgers and to their fans: When you’re thinking about the Dodgers of the future, stay cool, stay calm, stay rational.