Saturday, March 29, 2003
Do No Wrong ... Do No Right
Five weeks ago he was the answer to everything, but today the papers still have Joe Thurston going down to the minors, even though he has been getting on base once or twice a game this week. Maybe a single off Troy Percival last night will make a positive impression.
Again, I don't think it's the end of the world if Thurston starts the season in Las Vegas, particularly while Guillermo Mota is suspended. But Thurston was on the team when Spring Training opened. If you're going to justify sending him down based on his slow start at the beginning of March, can't you justify keeping him based on his improved play at the end of March?
If they send him down, I'd really like there to be a strong message that he's coming back soon.
You Know You Screwed Up When ...
Vin Scully, usually the definition of cheerfulness, has hardly ever sounded more disgusted on the air than he did during Friday’s Dodger-Angel broadcast.
Scully talked about how the Dodgers, under the Kevin Malone regime, told Mike Scioscia that he had no future with the organization.
“Unbelievable,” said Scully, the distaste in his voice unmistakable.
Scully went on to press the point - making it seemingly apparent where he thought the blame lay - noting that Scioscia is now a World Champion, and Malone is “gone.”
Friday, March 28, 2003
Tom Goodwin Flies, and So Does Time
From the Chicago Cubs site on MLB.com:
The moves mean non-roster invitees Harris and Goodwin have made the team. Harris, 38, is the Major League's all-time pinch-hit leader with 173 hits off the bench. He hit .305 in 122 games with Milwaukee last year.
Goodwin has a career .269 average over nine big-league seasons. He can fly -- the 34-year-old outfielder showed that when he hit a triple Wednesday.
"I love speed. That's one thing I haven't had in a long time," Baker said.
... Goodwin batted .260 for Baker and the San Francisco Giants last season, appearing in 78 games.
Alternate NL West Preview
Another reason I didn't pull together an NL West preview is because on Thursday, Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog did an incredibly thorough analysis of the division. His case for the Giants is particularly persuasive (unfortunately).
Aaron is still a college student but it looks like he's got a really bright future in this business if he goes on to pursue it. His insights and attention to detail, combined with his sense of humor, should take him pretty far.
Who the Hell Knows?
Today was the day I was going to do season predictions, but there’s just no point. I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t know if teams have ever seemed closer together to me, and there more Ifs and ?s than I know what to do with.
Can the addition of Hideki Matsui help the Yankees overcome the mediocre defense that the Angels exposed last fall, and hold off the luckless Red Sox? I’m starting to doubt that, but I have no idea.
Can the White Sox leapfrog the Twins? Tell me first if former Hall-of-Fame lock Frank Thomas has anything left.
What will win out with the Angels - the boost of having John Lackey and Francisco Rodriguez for an entire season, or the bad omens of injuries to Troy Glaus and Jarrod Washburn in March?
Will my theory about the Phillies - good players, self-destructive manager - be proven with a weaker Braves team winning their division?
Can the Cubs make a move under intense scrutiny behind a great young pitching staff and Dusty Baker - with you know who also playing significant roles?
NL West? The Giants are probably the favorites, because of lineup weakness and rotation uncertainties with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. But is there a bigger “what if?” than Los Angeles?
The way I see it, eight teams in the American League and nine teams in the National League have clear shots at playoff berths - and that’s without guessing at this year’s version of the out-of-nowhere team like the Angels. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all too close to call. If I had better ideas, I'd share them. But instead, I'm just gonna sit back, without the pressure of expectations, and enjoy it all.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
And Now, the Stomach Ache
Do you realize that as it stands now, the Cubs could field a starting lineup one day soon that features Eric Karros at first, Mark Grudzielanek at second, Lenny Harris at third and Tom Goodwin in center?
Time to Pig Out
LOS ANGELES, March 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Baseball fans around the country and here at Dodger Stadium have plenty of choices when it comes to food! As the players take the field for the 2003 season, fans will enjoy a variety of dining options meant to satisfy the needs of families, kids, and those die- hard traditionalists! NEW items on the public stands menus this year include ...
-- Deluxe Nachos Grande
-- Oriental Cup Noodles
-- Kettle Corn
-- Hot Fudge Sundaes
-- Soft Serve Waffle Cones
In 2001, Giovanni Carrara and Matt Herges were mainstays of the Dodger bullpen. They combined for 184 innings, 15 wins and a B-plus ERA, if you will, of 3.33.
Wednesday, both players were released by two different teams - Carrara by the Dodgers, Herges by Pittsburgh.
Herges looks like the more perplexing case. Despite the fact that the struggling Pirates had traded two top prospects to Montreal for him only months ago, and despite his Spring Training ERA of 1.93, Pittsburgh chose to keep a third left-handed reliever in another ex-Dodger, Dennys Reyes, over Herges.
One of my loyal readers told me of reports that Reyes, who has a Spring Training ERA of 7.71, was throwing well. Still, I have trouble understanding the choice.
Carrara, meanwhile, was clearly the Dodgers most expendable reliever, assuming that Guillermo Mota doesn’t get in any more High Noons. More than Carrara's exhibition ERA of 8.31 this year, you can look at the fact that last year, Carrara made a habit of allowing inherited runners to score. These didn’t show up in his ERA, but they may well have shown up in Dan Evans’ consciousness.
I will always wonder whether Carrara’s 2002 season - and in turn, perhaps his career with the Dodgers - was ruined the night of May 7, when the Dodgers were forced into a 16-inning game with Atlanta and Tracy kept Carrara out to pitch a career-high five innings of relief. A useless Terry Mulholland was still left in the bullpen - illustrating the perils of a wasted roster spot.
In any case, had I known that Carrara’s 2003 contract was not guaranteed until today, this would have been even easier to see coming. I really need to get on top of those details.
All in all, it’s a good move by the Dodgers - keeping a comparable or better player at a position where they have less depth, be that player Tom Martin or Steve Colyer or Wilson Alavarez. This is not like keeping Quilvio Veras instead of Joe Thurston - this is like keeping Mike Kinkaide instead of Quilvio Veras.
Colyer, despite his youth, had a fine season in the minors last year, and you could see coming on as a candidate all spring. As I've said before, he's probably the best of the bunch.
Martin, on the other hand, I didn’t take seriously at all. Not that I wasn’t familiar with him - not only had he pitched well in his rookie year (1997), with a 2.09 ERA for Houston, but he was an excellent player to have in my Strat-o-Matic league that year. But since then, the guy has been injured so often, that I just didn’t take him seriously. His career ERA has risen to 5.45.
The likely move is to keep Martin or Alvarez and send Colyer, who has options, down to Las Vegas. Again, it would help me to know Martin’s contract situation. If his major-league deal is well above the minimum, then you have to weigh your investment in him against the likelihood he will earn some of that money on the disabled list, not to mention his poor performance in recent years.
Perhaps Carrara, if he resigns a minor-league contract, will return someday.
And Herges? Could he do much worse than Pittsburgh? It’s late in Spring Training, but he may end up happier in the long run.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
P.S.: Whether Thurston deserves any of this consideration in the first place, based on batting average numbers that playing in Las Vegas no doubt inflated, I'm not going to argue.
Bad Arguments for a Good Idea
In the Times today, Bill Plaschke writes:
Is the Dodgers' need to promote the future larger than their need to win today?
His answer is yes. My answer is also yes.
But he then uses this as an argument to send Joe Thurston to the minor leagues, while I, as you saw Tuesday, use it as an argument to keep him in the majors.
Here are the reasons Plaschke thinks sending Joe down is a long-term solution:
Bill says: "...if Thurston stays, then the confidence of this 23-year-old kid could be permanently damaged."
I say: And if Thurston is sent down, the confidence of this 23-year-old kid could be permanently damaged. But in either case, I don't think that a guy nicknamed "Joey Ballgame," who scrapped his way just to get this far, is going to fall apart mentally over this.
Bill says: "...if Thurston stays, then Shumpert would be lost to another team, because he will not agree to be sent to the minors. And that could be a mistake because, despite his age, he is the sort of solid-hitting veteran that would fit in well here."
I say: Solid-hitting? Over the past three seasons, Terry Shumpert's OPS has been .752, playing with the Rockies. At Coors Field, his OPS is .920. Everywhere else, it's .595. I'm sorry, Terry might be a nice guy, but calling him a solid hitter is the kind of analysis that leaves you with Tom Goodwin as a starting outfielder.
Bill says: "...demoting a guy because of a poor spring can be as unfair as promoting a guy because of a great spring. But when a player is trying to make the full-time jump from triple A to the major leagues — the biggest leap in baseball — the rules are different.
I say: First of all, the jump from AAA to the majors is not the biggest leap in baseball, for obvious reasons. Second of all, why are the rules different? Why should a 50-at-bat sample be the defining one, no matter how old you are?
BIll says: "Spring training is his final tryout. Spring training is his most important stage."
I say: Can we revisit this statement in April ... June ... September - and see if it holds true?
Bill says: "If a player can't at least modestly succeed in front of an overweight pitcher and vacationing umpire and a couple of thousand dozing fans in Kissimmee, how is he going to fare in April at Dodger Stadium?"
I say: I guess the season's over for Alex Cora and Andy Ashby.
Plaschke then wraps things up with the story of how a young Roberto Alomar was sent down, but recovered and came back up to be an All-Star. I guess if it's just that simple, let's send everyone down.
Okay - I'm starting to get a little hyperbolic myself, so I'll dial it back some. I don't think sending Thurston down would be a horrible thing. If he's good enough to play at this level, he'll probably be back later this spring. And again, with the Guillermo Mota situation, you could even just say to Thurston that you're sending him down for the four games that Mota is out, and then you're bringing him back. I've really got no problem with that.
What I can't understand is how you can talk sending to the minors a young guy who has a rough five weeks while advocating that the team build for the future.
If you really believe in constructing your team for the long term, you keep Joe Thurston on the roster. And if he starts the season hitting .189 and Bill Plaschke comes around to say that you've made a mistake - you're ruining this guy's confidence and you've lost solid-hitting veteran Terry Shumpert to boot - then you tell Plaschke, "Thank you kindly for your thoughts." And then you say emphatically that you believe in Joe Thurston, and that you have your best people working with him, and that you're gonna give him a real chance, not one that expires in March.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
The arguments are mounting to send Joe Thurston down to the minor leagues. (By the way, has it been decided yet whether it's Joe or Joey?)
Thurston has not hit, hit with power, or walked much this spring. Vin Scully raved about his fielding on Saturday's telecast, but others have made his glovework sound as compelling as an ABC sitcom.
He missed a bunt Monday, which has been made out to be a cardinal sin, although in the No. 7 slot in the order, where he would figure to bat in the regular season, there won't be much need for him to lay one down.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers could use his spot - especially while Guillermo Mota serves his suspension - to hang onto an extra reserve from the Ron Coomer, Terry Shumpert, Calvin Murray crew. (I'm deciding that Jolbert Cabrera is on the team already, and Larry Barnes and Jason Romano are already ticketed for Las Vegas.)
Thurston could go to Las Vegas, get his confidence back, give the Dodgers time to sort out their reserve situation, and come back ready to contribute by May.
These are all decent arguments, and the whole of them is greater than the sum of their parts, or however that goes.
Here's are the reasons to ignore them.
With Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort pitching well, the Dodgers have had a quiet spring. The most interesting story for most of Spring Training has been the emergence of an actual competition for the final spots on the roster. All the reserve candidates mentioned above have played well.
That this competition has been the big story has made it seem more important than it is. At best, Coomer, Shumpert, or Murray will be the least valuable player on the team.
That is not to say they won't have any value at all. Coomer could hit a home run off the bench. Murray could make a great ninth-inning catch in place of Brian Jordan. Shumpert - frankly, I don't know what Shumpert would do. The guy's 36 and had a .676 OPS with Colorado last year.
But they will have the least impact on the team. They are the 25th men. They will not bring their .300-plus Spring Training averages into the regular season. If the Dodgers are depending on Ron Coomer to win them games, plural, then the Dodgers are simply in trouble.
When the season starts, Thurston might not do any better than Coomer, Shumpert or Murray would. Thurston's probably never going to be an All-Star. His best will, frankly, might resemble Mark Grudzielanek at his best. Slap a lot of singles and doubles around, but not walk much and not make anyone forget Ozzie Smith.
The thing with Thurston, though, is that he just might do that well. Whereas, there is no reason to believe Coomer or Shumpert will. They are aging veterans with track records of decline. They do not have the potential upside of a Joey Ballgame. Murray - I don't know, maaaayyyybe - he's not necessarily over the hill yet, and he resembles Dave Roberts too much to completely write him off.
Bottom line: Jim Tracy's skill is finding ways for borderline ballplayers to succeed. Who do you want him applying that skill to? Terry Shumpert, Ron Coomer or Joe Thurston?
Monday, March 24, 2003
The Last Place You Look?
In Sunday’s exhibition against Houston, Kazuhisa Ishii gave a sample of what is essentially the mixed blessing of a good Kazuhisa Ishii outing. He threw shutout ball, but averaged one walk and 18 pitches per inning.
Ishii is like the poor man’s vision of Jackson Pollock. Drip paint every which way, and hope that it comes out a masterpiece.
In 2002, Ishii averaged 17.58 pitches per inning. By comparison, Hideo Nomo – also known for his wildness – averaged 15.67 pitches per inning. Odalis Perez needed only 13.56 pitches per inning.
With the Ishii that we have seen so far, the best you hope for is that the end justifies the means. When that doesn’t happen, which is often, you begin to have misgivings about sending him out as a starting pitcher.
Despite not throwing a complete game last year, Ishii allowed nine or more baserunners in a game 15 times. He walked five or more batters eight times. Whenever he pitches, you need to have all your relief corps at the ready.
Sending Ishii himself to the bullpen, however, has not seemed like a solution, because when you have a pitcher who can’t find his command, the last place you want to make him search for it is in the late innings of a close game with runners on base. The thinking is that if Ishii is in such trouble that he has to tumble out of the rotation, he would immediately drop to Terry Mulholland-like mop-up status.
But here’s a new idea for Ishii – one that might fit his strengths with the Dodger weaknesses.
How about left-handed short man?
Here are Ishii’s stats against right-handed and left-handed batters last year:
vs. Righties: .245 BA, .375 OBP, .406 SLG, .781 OPS
vs. Lefties: .223 BA, .290 OBP, .308 SLG, .597 OPS
That’s a big difference.
Facing 143 left-handed batters last year, Ishii allowed 24 singles, two doubles and three home runs – and perhaps more amazingly, walked only 12 (plus a hit batsman).
He walked only one of every 11 left-handed batters, compared to one of every five right-handed batters. In an inning against a right-handed lineup, Ishii is almost guaranteed to walk someone.
Another characteristic that would make Ishii a good left-handed short reliever is that he can generate strikeouts. More than a third of his outs against left-handed batters came in that fashion.
Working against the argument of Ishii as a reliever is that his best innings in 2002 were the middle innings. He allowed only a .515 OPS in innings 4-6, as opposed to a .890 OPS in innings 1-3 – an even bigger differential than the left-right discrepancy. So there is reason to continue trying Ishii as a starter, chewing your fingernails through the first third of the game.
Also, in very small samples, Ishii has had mixed results getting some of the bigger-name left-handed hitters out. Here is the record of some leading lefties against Ishii:
Mark Kotsay: 4 plate appearances, 2 hits (1 home run), 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 2.000 OPS
Darin Erstad: 6 plate appearances, 4 hits, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, 1.333 OPS
Larry Walker: 3 plate appearances, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout, 1.167 OPS
Luis Gonzalez: 9 plate appearances, 3 hits, 3 walks, 0 strikeouts, 1.167 OPS
Todd Helton: 10 plate appearances, 3 hits, 2 walks, 2 strikeouts, 1.000 OPS
Cliff Floyd: 3 plate appearances, 1 hit, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, .667 OPS
Garret Anderson: 4 plate appearances, 1 hit, 0 walks, 1 strikeout, .450 OPS
Barry Bonds: 3 plate appearances, 0 hits, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, .333 OPS
Ryan Klesko: 3 plate appearances, 0 hits, 0 walks, 2 strikeouts, .000 OPS
I am in the camp that the Dodgers shouldn’t have a left-handed reliever just for the sake of having one. If their best relievers are all righties, then that’s whom they should go with.
Still, until another starting pitcher goes down with an injury, “Wild Thing” Ishii coming out of the bullpen might be an option for the Dodgers to consider. Assuming Andy Ashby can get his act together at all, the Dodgers might get much more out of having Ashby starting and Ishii helping to form the bridge to Eric Gagne.