Saturday, April 05, 2003
McGriff Tiptoes into the Bizarro World
I keep waiting for Jim Tracy to start platooning Fred McGriff, who hit horribly against left-handers this year.
Problem is, McGriff has a double, home run (both clutch) and walk in eight appearances against lefthanders this year, but has only a single and three walks in 14 plate appearances against righties.
This unlikely success means it's going to take that much longer for the truth about McGriff to emerge.
It's not like I don't want McGriff to hit lefties. I just don't see why he'd be able to continue doing so.
Can We Get Tommy John Surgery on the Offense - Stat?
I’ve read more than once that Darren Dreifort had a wicked pitching motion that made him vulnerable to the kinds of injuries that he’s had.
Last night, his motion looked smooth to me. So either that’s progress, or I just don’t know what to look for.
His game was similar to the Tommy John game I wrote about Friday, wasn’t it? A little shaky, but mostly effective until finally giving up a three-run inning.
You probably came away from Friday’s loss more worried about the Dodger offense than the Dodger pitching. Me too.
Doesn’t it seem like every year, we hear the Dodgers are going to manufacture runs by playing little ball? And doesn’t it seem like every year, we’re watching the opposition do it?
The Dodgers struggle to get within a run of the Padres, and then in the bottom of the eighth inning, San Diego uses a double and two bunts - one by ex-Dodger minor leaguer Shane Victorino - to get a run in. Easily.
Frankly, I’ve been wondering what makes mediocre offensive teams like the Dodgers think they would be any better at manufacturing runs than they are at buying them retail. If they’re not good enough build an above-average OPS, what makes them think that they can execute a fairly difficult play, the hit-and-run?
Are the Angels able to manufacture runs because they are really committed to it and not just paying lip service to the idea, or because they’re just better hitters?
Either way, it seems safe to continue saying that it’s going to be another inconsistent year at the plate for the Dodgers.
(It could be worse. After five games, the Detroit Tigers have four runs and 19 hits, an average of 0.8 runs and 4.8 hits per game.)
Friday, April 04, 2003
The Comeback That Started It All
Tonight, as Darren Dreifort attempts to become the first major league pitcher to successfully come back from two elbow reconstructions, why don’t we take a look at how the pioneer of reconstruction recovery, Tommy John, did in his return.
First, a little background. You might know intuitively that John brought much better credentials to the operating table than Dreifort, but you might not know how much better. Some people only remember the post-surgery Tommy John, but he was quite a pitcher beforehand.
When John’s elbow gave out on him in July 1974 (shortly before his 31st birthday), John was 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA in a league where the average ERA was 3.41. Despite going 2-11 in his first two seasons, John had a career record of 124-106.
Dreifort, as we all know, has won just a smattering of games in his career, going 43-52 with a 4.38 ERA that is worse than the 4.14 league average in that time. Dreifort was 27 when the injury occurred – he turns 29 on Monday.
Anyway, John and Dreifort had this in common: They each missed the remainder of the season in which they were hurt, plus all the following season.
Also, Dreifort will take the mound today against a San Diego Padres team that went 66-96 in 2002 and figures to be about as bad this year. On April 16, 1976, John faced an Atlanta Braves team that went 67-94 in 1975 and would only improve by 2 ½ games in 1976, to 70-92.
Atlanta was the home team. In the bottom of the first, John was almost too wobbly or too careful. He got two groundouts, then walked Darrell Evans and ex-Dodger teammate Jimmy Wynn before Ken Henderson made the third out on a tapper to Steve Yeager.
In the second inning, John induced two more groundouts, allowed a single to Darrel Chaney, and then got his sixth groundout out of six outs.
The third inning brought John’s second jam. John delivered his first strikeout (Rowland Office – always liked that name), but then walked another ex-Dodger, Jerry Royster, gave up a single to Evans and walked Wynn for the second time. Henderson was the escape route again, grounding into a double play.
By the way, the Dodgers hadn’t gotten any hits off Braves starter Dick Ruthven to this point. They did get a Ted Sizemore walk and Steve Garvey single in the top of the fourth, but Ron Cey hit into a force play to end the inning.
John sailed through the bottom of the fourth, drawing two more groundouts before the first Braves flyout of the game, by Chaney to Dusty Baker.
The score was still 0-0 with one out in the bottom of the fifth, when Office and Royster singled. Evans came up … and hit a three-run home run. John got through the rest of the inning, but came out of the game after that.
His totals: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 1 K. Twelve of his 15 outs came on the ground.
That was it for the Braves. The Dodgers remained shut out until the ninth, when they scored one run and put the tying runs on second and third with one out. However, Bill Buckner struck out, and Ted Sizemore flied out to end the game.
On the bright side, the home run by Evans was one of only seven homers John would allow in 1976, a season in which he would make 31 starts, throw 207 innings (6 2/3 innings per start), and finish 10-10 despite a nice 3.09 ERA. The following year, at age 34, John would go 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA, the first of three 20-plus win seasons he would deliver following the surgery that established his place in history.
Dreifort is likely to get more strikeouts tonight then John did in that game 27 years ago, but if he can match anything else that John did that day or for the remaining 14! years of John’s career (he pitched until he was 46 years old, remember), that will really be something.
I don’t know if Tommy John was a better pitcher than he was a story, but he was excellent in both respects.
Thanks to Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference.com.
The tortoise became the hare – but the race didn’t go much better.
Last year, Kazuhisa Ishii had a pattern of slow starts and stronger finishes for the Dodgers. Thursday against the Padres, he reversed it.
Through three innings, he faced 11 batters, allowed two hits and no walks, struck out two, and used 43 total pitches.
In the fourth, he got only one batter out while allowing four hits and three walks, using 35 pitches.
As far as I’m concerned, I’m pleased to know that last year’s leader in walks was able to come out and just throw strikes under any circumstances. But of course, it was still discouraging how he fell apart.
Here are two explanations for what went wrong. From Brian Dohn in the Los Angeles Daily News:
Before the shadows on a shivery Thursday afternoon stretched from the stands behind home plate and covered the batter's box in the fourth inning, Dodgers left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii was in command. Then the shadows overtook the San Diego Padres hitters and things changed abruptly.
From Jason Reid in the Los Angeles Times:
Catcher Todd Hundley said the Padres finally figured out Ishii in their four-hit fourth.
"They just basically started sitting on curveballs," he said. "We were getting it over for strikes, and they made adjustments.
"Early in the game, they were taking curveballs and hacking at any close fastballs. In the fourth, they were taking fastballs and hacking at curveballs that were anywhere close."
The first explanation doesn’t inspire much hope; it says that Ishii is a smoke-and-mirrors pitcher with a limited supply of both. The second explanation shows the possibility of Thursday being a learning experience.
Ishii’s next start, for what it’s worth, is a night game Tuesday against Arizona. I plan to attend, and in between hot dogs, will try to look for some pattern of what kind of pitches Ishii is successful with.
I’m not retreating from the notion I posited on March 24 that despite popular opinion, Ishii might actually be more of an asset in the bullpen. But even though I’ve never been that enamored of him as a starter, I’m willing to give him more time.
Did You Know...
... that the Giants have won 11 consecutive regular-season games? They finished the 2002 season with an eight-game winning streak.
(Make it 12 - San Francisco just rallied to beat Milwaukee.)
...that Dodger castoff Terry Shumpert not only started for Tampa Bay on Thursday, he batted cleanup? (Thanks to Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus.)
...that Dodger Stadium will charge more for beer than any other major league ballpark - but that overall, the cost of a family going to a Dodger game is below the major league average. (See the Team Marketing Report Fan Cost Index for baseball.)
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Doesn't Get Any Better Than This (For Grudz, Anyway)
Mark Grudzielanek has reached base in his first six plate appearances of 2003.
One Side Fits All
Existential challenge: Can you name a truly one-sided object?
I'll give you some time to think about it.
The closest I can come on short notice is the Giants' season-opening three-game sweep of the Dodgers in 2002, in which they outscored Los Angeles, 24-2.
But as far as two-wins-out-of-three in a season-opening series goes, 2003 was pretty one-sided in favor of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers outscored Arizona 17-5. Their OPS was .902; Arizona's was .459. They had more than twice as many hits and extra-base hits. They had a team ERA of 1.65 and allowed only 21 hits and walks combined in 27 1/3 innings. And that doesn't account for how well they ran the bases and fielded the ball (Daryle Ward being a notable exception). Six out of eight regulars had outstanding series at the plate and in the field - only Adrian Beltre and Fred McGriff started slowly.
Now it's on to play four games with an 0-3 San Diego team. The Dodgers may not gain much ground in the standings, with Arizona playing Colorado this weekend and San Francisco playing Milwaukee. But more momentum is waiting to be built.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Bad Trade Update
Seems wrong to bring this up when the Dodgers have pitched so well for three games.
Seems wrong to bring this up considering the game was against Baltimore.
But lest we forget too quickly about Ricardo Rodriguez, one of the pitchers the Dodgers sent to Cleveland in exchange for Paul Shuey ... Rodriguez threw seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball to beat the Orioles (and another ex-Dodger, Omar Daal). Rodriguez only struck out two batters, but still, not bad, not bad.
What Was That Last Paragraph?
Honestly, I couldn't tell you.
Sending Out an SbS
Kevin Brown's first six innings Wednesday, pitch-by-pitch:
Inning 1: SbS bSSbS SSS
Inning 2: S SSbbSS SS
Inning 3: bSbSbS bS SSS SbbSbS
Inning 4: SbS S SbS
Inning 5: bSbSS SbS bbbS
Inning 6: bS bbS bbSb
As the game went on, Brown stopped getting the first-pitch strikes that he was racking up earlier. But what a fine performance nonetheless. He faced one batter over the minimum over six innings, and used three pitches or fewer on 13 out of 19 batters.
Meanwhile, Eric Gagne comes in for his first appearance and retires the side on nine pitches - all strikes.
The Dodgers needed only 342 pitches to get through the 28 1/3 innings of this series. That's 12.1 pitches per inning. Phenomenal.
Of course, as any oldtimer will tell you, 342 pitches is nothing. In the old days, a pitcher would throw 342 pitches in a game by himself. In the blazing sun. Nursing a hangover from nightcrawling past 3 a.m. at the downtown speakeasy. With wolves biting at their ankles. And don't forget - they traveled by train back then. Long hours through mudflap towns. In fact, sometimes those roadtrips were so long, they played the games on the trains. You ever tried to hit a curveball from Lefty Grove while a speeding locomotive shot you through a tunnel in Appalachia? I didn't think so. So don't go bragging to me about no 342 pitches.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Green’s Light Goes Red
As Tuesday’s game went into the eighth inning with Curt Schilling working on his two-hit shutout and a 4-0 lead, I envisioned writing about Odalis Perez.
Yes, you could tell this game was going to be a different story from Monday’s by the time Perez walked the leadoff batter, the ineffectual Tony Womack. Perez went on to allow four runs in the first three innings.
But Perez didn’t cave. Part of that was thanks to Arizona’s atrocious baserunning decisions, but mostly, he found the plate, spared the Dodgers a demoralizing trip through the nether regions of their bullpen - and lo and behold, kept them in the game.
The comeback off Schilling in the eighth was meaningful. The Dodgers may not be a nine-inning team every day of the year - what team is - but they showed everything you would want to see in that rally. Even though they were smothered for seven innings, the Dodgers pounced on their opening - Schilling tiring - and worked their way back in.
That they lost the game is, I’m gonna say, almost a footnote. They almost stole a win - just like that 2002 game I mentioned Monday, when they rallied to take the lead over Randy Johnson only to lose in extra innings. But the way they took the lead will resonate longer than the way they lost.
The biggest twist of the game was not the almost indomitable Schilling losing that lead, however. It was finding that Shawn Green has become a 33 1/3 runner in a 45 RPM world.
On first base with one out, Green should have scored the go-ahead run on Fred McGriff’s surprising double down the right-field line (off a left-handed pitcher, no less). But Green looked gassed by the time he rounded second. I had as much trouble believing it as third-base coach Glenn Hoffman must have as he waved the almost unambulatory Green in.
Meanwhile, straining around the turn at third, Green hesitated, looking like he couldn’t believe he was being sent.
In retrospect, you’d like to see Brian Jordan coming up with runners on second and third, one out, and the Arizona bullpen reeling. But I won’t blame Hoffman. I really wouldn’t be surprised if that was the slowest Shawn Green has ever run in a major-league baseball game.
Speed has never been the biggest part of Shawn Green’s game, of course, but it was an asset. It’s not insignificant. Speed in getting to the ball helps him play right field. He has 128 career stolen bases. Outside of Dave Roberts, Green was arguably supposed to be the best baserunner in the starting lineup.
Last year, when Green’s stolen base total dipped to eight after four consecutive years of 20 or more, it might have been attributable to a fluke or circumstance. Maybe the same goes for him tying a National League record for left-handed batters by grounding into 26 double plays. Maybe even looking at what happened tonight, maybe Green just needs to amp up the pregame windsprints.
But maybe not. No one else is going to write about this amid all the other activity of Tuesday's game, but maybe our five-tool player has lost a tool. Not to diminish the value of the victory that got away, but that’s the biggest bummer of the night.
Monday, March 31, 2003
Opening Day Running Commentary
I'll sneak in some thoughts when I can...
Nice, huh? Guess what - Shawn Green hits Randy Johnson. Career OPS is .906. And how about Nomo only needing 11 pitches? That's the stuff.
I love it - we are playing ball!
Adrian Beltre does not hit Randy - career OPS of .605. Of course, we're talking a small sample here - it's a difference of four hits in 36 or 37 at-bats between Beltre and Green.
Nomo follows his 11 with a 9.
Cesar Izturis leads off with a double...what a hitter. Let's see if Nomo can get a bunt down this year - or will he just play it safe health-wise and concede the at-bat to Johnson.
Nope - K for Nomo. Only one by Johnson in his first run through the lineup. But Roberts and Lo Duca can't bring the run in. Johnson's thrown 38 pitches through three - no big deal for him. Still Dodgers 1, Diamondbacks 0 heading into the bottom of the third.
Nomo started with first-pitch balls to all three batters in the first. Now, with two out in the third, six out of eight batters have taken the first pitch. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a strategy to take pitches on Nomo, perhaps the wildest good pitcher in baseball (now that Johnson isn't wild anymore, and Ishii may not be that good).
Johnson, at the plate, takes a ball and a strike before grounding out. Three innings, 31 pitches for Nomo. That's as good as he can be - phenomenal for him. I doubt he had more than a handful of three-inning stretches like that last year.
Okay, what's with all the caught stealing? Jordan in the first, and now Green in the fourth after a walk. Both appear to be straight steals, not busted hit-and-runs. Checking last year's stats, baserunners only stole 19 out of 34 bases against Johnson - 56 percent - so it's not like he's easy to run on. Chad Moeller, the Arizona catcher, has thrown out only 30 percent of baserunners in his career - not a great total, but not Todd Hundley territory either.
Running on Johnson is something to consider - you just have to weigh the difficulty of getting runners home against Johnson vs. the difficulty of getting them on in the first place. I might play it a little conservative, or at least try more hit-and-run.
Tony Womack returns the favor to the Dodgers in the bottom of the fourth - out trying to stretch a double into a triple. That helps Nomo get through the fourth with 12 pitches - 43 for the game. But I think Steve Finley was the first to get a three-ball count off of him - and then Spivey did it too. Is some of the sharpness Nomo started the game with starting to dissipate?
A little bingo. Beltre gets an infield single, and Jolbert Cabrera makes the Dodger braintrust look good by following with a single of his own. Five hits off Johnson now, and hot-hitting Cesar Izturis up.
Ugh. Double play.
And Nomo goes down meekly. 1-0 Dodgers into the bottom of the fifth.
Getting tougher for Nomo. He needs 11 pitches - his total number of pitches in the first inning - to record his first out here in B5. But after Bautista flies out, Luis Gonzalez, who singled, is caught stealing. Baserunners thrown out today: Dodgers 2, Diamondbacks 2.
That gets Nomo out of the fifth with 60 total pitches - 29 in the past two innings. Still not bad. His spot in the batting order may not come again until after the seventh inning.
Gotta love Tony Womack. His error lets Dave Roberts aboard leading off the inning - and then Roberts conquers new baserunning ground for these two teams, stealing second. Lo Duca then does something I would never have him do - bunting a runner from second to third. Just a wasted at-bat, even though he's successful. Your odds of scoring a runner from second with no outs, even with Johnson on the mound, are just simply better than getting him in from third with one out.
Green grounds to first and Roberts holds, validating my point.
But then Brian Jordan makes all of us look good - himself the most - with a two-run homer to left...
Now it's just a matter of the Dodger pitching staff holding the questionable Diamondbacks lineup to two runs over four innings. And Johnson may have to come out of the game now - he's due up third.
Nomo gets a first-pitch strike on Lyle Overbay to start the bottom of the sixth. Is it just me, or does that one pitch energize you after scoring in the top of the inning. Overbay flies out, and then Moeller strikes out on three pitches.
Johnson stays in but also strikes out on three pitches. An eight-pitch sixth inning for Nomo with two strikeouts. Fantastic for him.
Cabrera and Izturis each with two hits off Johnson now. That'll shrink the news value of Mark Grudzielanek's 3-for-3 plus a walk for Chicago today. With one out, another bunting situation for Nomo - until Izturis steals second.
Didn't Nomo blast a double of Johnson last season? Yeah, he did. It's his only career hit off of him.
Well, Nomo strikes out for the third time. Johnson only has two other strikeouts.
A hit-by-pitch - ouch - loads the bases for Lo Duca. Can he bust it open? (Not to get greedy.) Johnson's at 92 pitches now - would they relieve?
Talk to me - a two-run single. 5-0 Dodgers.
Now here's where any mortal pitcher would come out of the game. You have to think Green is the last batter Johnson will face.
Especially now that Green has walked to load the bases again for Jordan, who homered his last time up. Yep - Johnson's done.
Now it's time to see what Jim Tracy does in 2003 with his defense when he has a late-inning lead. Candidates for substitution: Jordan, Cabrera and McGriff. He may wait an inning or so, but I would guess that at least the first two of these are gone by the ninth.
In fact, it starts with Alex Cora in for Cabrera.
Into the bottom of the seventh ... a little trouble for Nomo - two on with two out. No Hall-of-Famers coming up, but the Diamondbacks wouldn't be as successful as they've been if guys like Danny Bautista couldn't get a clutch hit.
But Bautista grounds out, and Nomo's through seven. In 80 pitches. This just is not Hideo Nomo. This is like vintage Kevin Brown. Will Nomo carry the Dodgers straight through to Gagne - or even past him?
We'll forgive Fred McGriff his 0-for-4 debut - his season starts tomorrow against Curt Schilling. After Beltre doubles for the Dodgers 10th hit, my dad calls me from the road in San Francisco, saying "maybe there's hope." I tell him I've learned just to enjoy the good stuff while I can. But as he points out, what a day it is for Johnson, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine - three aces pounded.
Izturis is up with Beltre on second and two out. One would assume the Diamondbacks would walk even as weak a hitter as Izturis to force the Dodgers to forfeit Nomo, either at the plate or on the mound. And so it goes. Izturis now has a 1.750 OPS on the season.
Boy - Opening Day, two outs, two on in the eighth inning in a Randy Johnson-started game, and Nomo bats. Who'd have thought? So, can Nomo get the golden sombrero at the plate?
Talk to me.
So, Nomo's no hitting wonder. But, he slides through the eighth inning, allowing a single but striking out two. Did Nomo think that everyone on the Dodger staff was suspended for hitting Mike Piazza with a pitch. Eight innings, four hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, 91 pitches.
In another ninth inning in Tampa Bay, Terry Shumpert just homered. What depth we had at second base.
Does the lead seem big enough that we're killing time now until the bottom of the inning? Roberts singles, and Lo Duca has fouled off three pitches in a row. He strikes out, but Green doubles for the second time, Jordan is walked intentionally to load the bases, and with a newbie named Stephen Randolph on the hill for Arizona, it's starting to feel like Spring Training never ended. A quick search on ESPN.com for information on Randolph - and there are no stats on him. Looks like this is his first major-league game. All they have to tell me is that he's 28, throws and bats left, was born on May 1, 1974 in Okinawa, Japan, attended Galveston (Texas) Junior College, and his full name is Stephen LeCharles Randolph.
The training continues. McGriff walks to get his first Dodger RBI, and it's 6-0.
The Diamondbacks have to rescue Randolph with Miguel Batista - once a key Arizona starter, now doing mopup. Although Schilling may mitigate these effects tomorrow, the Diamondback bullpen is getting a workout on day 1. Bullpen rest is always a nice advantage to have at the start of a series. Guess that means that I don't need any more tidbits on Randolph. Too bad - I just found out he won 15 games last year for AAA Tuscon and went 15-for-45 at the plate.
RBIs from Beltre and Cora off Batista make it 8-0 before, with Nomo's spot on deck, Izturis ends the inning. A total of 166 pitches for Arizona today.
Nomo comes out for the ninth. I was wrong about the defense, though - Jordan and McGriff are still in. Top of the order for Arizona. Womack grounds out. Finley grounds out. Can Nomo finish off the Diamondbacks in under 100 pitches? He's at 96 when Junior Spivey comes up.
With two strikes on him, Spivey fouls off pitch number 99. On #103, Spivey grounds out.
A masterpiece for Nomo and the Dodgers today.
I guess I managed to sneak in my handful of comments. What a fun game. After all the Spring Training buildup, this, if nothing else, was well worth the wait.
Some tidbits about the Arizona lineup as we get started ...
...The Diamondbacks are awful at the top of the lineup. Their leadoff hitter, Tony Womack, hasn’t broken .700 in OPS in three seasons. He’s often followed in the lineup by third baseman Craig Counsell, whose OPS last season was .699. The left side of the Arizona infield is worthy of Tampa Bay.
...Luis Gonzalez has declined - into simply being an outstanding batter (.896 OPS in 2002) instead of an unbelievable one (1.117 OPS in 2001).
...Catcher Damian Miller, traded to the Cubs, might not be missed, if Chad Moeller can make a most of his .852 OPS in 2002 stand up with more than 120 plate appearances.
...Steve Finley is never mundane - the 38-year-old is either great or disappointing. His OPS numbers the past three seasons are .905, .767 and .869. Did you know he has over 2,000 career hits? He still figures to have some value left.
...Third and fourth outfielders Danny Bautista (.867 OPS) and Quentin McCracken (.825 OPS) both have higher OPS marks than the Dodgers’ second-best hitting outfielder, Brian Jordan (.807 OPS). But when you use OPS+, which takes park effects into account, Jordan and Bautista are tied at 119, followed by McCracken at 110.
It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame...
...for a ballgame, today.
The fans are out to get a ticket or two
From Walla Walla, Washington to Kalamazoo
It's a beautiful day for a home run
But even a triple's okay
We're gonna cheer
And raise a hallabaloo
At the ballgame, today!
... with sincere thoughts going to Jack Clark, to his speedy recovery, and to inspiring others to wear a helmet if they must ride a motorcycle, even if the law in their state doesn't require wearing one.
Now ... pull up a chair for Opening Day, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks!
Sunday, March 30, 2003
6 for 37, .162
Those are Jason Romano's Spring Training stats. See, I told you, Spring Training numbers don't matter.
Meanwhile, Joe Thurston could have the best attitude in the world and still wonder how Romano could be on the team instead of him.
Yeah, Romano on the team is a huge upset in my mind - bigger than Steve Colyer or Tom Martin. I'm not going to put too much significance on it, though. I'm still surprised that in the end, the Dodgers didn't go with what could have, at worst, been a double platton of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora at shortstop, and Thurston and Jolbert Cabrera at second base. However, I'm still gonna bet that Thurston is back up by May 1, meaning that Cabrera can go back to being the true Derrel Thomas-like utility man instead of platooning at second base, and Romano can go to Las Vegas.
But finally, this battle for the 25th roster spot - baseball's version of college basketball's NIT - is over. Let's remember to count how many games Romano helps the Dodgers win this year.