Friday, April 25, 2003
On January 13, I wrote that the Dodgers have been luckier the past two seasons than not, based on two things:
1) their record in one-run games
2) their overall record compared to their Pythagorean record.
(Brief recap of what Pythagorean record means: Bill James devised a formula in which he found he could predict what a team’s won-lost record was simply by using two numbers – runs scored and runs allowed that season – and plugging them into a formula. Presumably, a team that won more than the formula predicted was lucky and/or overachieved, and vice versa.)
This year, one could argue that the Dodgers have not been lucky. They are 3-6 in one-run games, way off their 33-15 pace of last season. Their Pythagorean record indicates they should be 12-10 in 2003, not 9-13 as they are.
On the other hand - remove one 16-4 victory over the Giants, and the Dodgers go from outscoring opponents this season, 78-73, to underscoring them, 62-69. Their Pythagorean record then drops to 10-12.
Mind you, it's not too late for this to turn around. A home run would help.
OPS by batting slot, 2003:
#1 - Dodgers .799, Opponents .669
#2 - Dodgers .525, Opponents .515
#3 - Dodgers .832, Opponents .524
#4 - Dodgers .695, Opponents .951
#5 - Dodgers .816, Opponents .824
#6 - Dodgers .604, Opponents .663
#7 - Dodgers .817, Opponents .556
#8 - Dodgers .542, Opponents .846
#9 - Dodgers .337, Opponents .350
Total - Dodgers .671, Opponents .653
You can draw many conclusions from this chart. Here's my vote for most interesting one: Opponents' No. 8 hitters are performing better than any batting slot in the Dodger lineup. That's a problem.
Touch 'Em None
Adrian Beltre - no home runs since April 11
Shawn Green - no home runs since April 9
Fred McGriff - no home runs since April 7
Brian Jordan - no home runs since April 3
Dave Roberts - no home runs since April 1
Paul Lo Duca - no home runs since September 27, 2002
Alex Cora - no home runs since September 22, 2002
Cesar Izturis - no home runs since July 2, 2002
Thursday, April 24, 2003
Robert on Roberts
Want some more detail on Dave Roberts, who leads off for the Dodgers but has no followers, who is the sparkplug in an engineless car, who is setting the table with no busboys to clear it?
Check out the new blog from a Dodger Thoughts reader named Robert: Priorities and Frivolities. As Robert wrote to me, "Although it's not entirely devoted to Dodger issues, I plan to write quite frequently on the team, since it seems that I spend almost every waking hour following them."
I can relate. Anyway, Robert has a two-part look at his near-namesake up on Priorities and Frivolities right now.
Our First Wild Card Update
The Dodgers are tied for ninth, three games out.
We've Had it Too Good
Would you believe Dodger fans have been spoiled the past eight years?
The last time the Dodgers had a record of below .500 at the end of April was 1994. The Dodgers have had only four losing Aprils since the World Series title year of 1988.
Here's the list:
1999...13-10 (at this rate, we're headed for 0-10. Fortunately ...)
1998...14-12 (includes an 0-1 March)
1994...11-12 (followed by a 17-12 May - in a 58-56 season)
1993...8-15 (followed by an 18-8 May - in an 81-81 season)
1992...9-13 (followed by a 13-10 May - in a 63-99 season)
1989...11-13 (followed by a 14-11 May - in a 77-83 season)
1988...13-7 (best April in past 15 years - followed by World Series victory)
The Dodgers are 9-12 including a March 31 victory, with six games left in April. They only have to win one more game to surpass the winning percentage of the 1993 April. But even if they win all six games, this will have been the Dodgers' worst April since 1998.
On the bright side, all four losing Aprils since 1988 have been followed by winning Mays. (Winning Mays - Willie Mays' lesser-known twin brother.)
On the gloomy side, all four losing Aprils have lead to season records of .509 or worse.
But remember - this is a correlation, not a causation. Please - no wagering.
Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Elsewhere ... Indignation
Honestly, I meant today to be only about Gagne and good things. I'm really sorry to have gone negative again.
Anyway, here's an interesting counterpoint to the Mota situation. From The Associated Press:
Daytona Cubs player injured protected osprey with ball
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A minor league pitcher might face animal cruelty charges for injuring a protected bird with a thrown baseball.
Jae-kuk Ryu, a 19-year-old South Korean pitcher for the Class-A Daytona Cubs, knocked an osprey from its perch during pregame practice Monday night.
The male bird sustained a serious eye injury. Ospreys are recognized by the state as a species of special concern, meaning their habitats are vulnerable. Anyone who wounds or kills an osprey can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and 60 days in jail.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating and plans to submit its findings to the state attorney's office next week, spokeswoman Joy Hill said.
``We've received a number of calls from an outraged public. I just talked to one woman; she wants him deported,'' Hill said. ``People have zero tolerance for this kind of thing.''
The Chicago Cubs, who signed Ryu two years ago, are conducting their own investigation to determine how the pitcher will be punished.
``I can assure you it would be more than the average citizen will receive,'' farm director Oneri Fleita said. ``The average citizen certainly wouldn't be demoted or docked pay or fined or whatever it might be. It was certainly something we don't condone, and we will make sure that the matter is rectified to the best of our ability.''
The Cone of Silence
Who watched SportsNight? There was an episode once in which show producer Dana's brother, an NFL player, tested positive for steroids. He faced discipline from the league, plus possible criminal charges. Dana was furious with her brother for being so stupid, but anchorman Casey counseled her that while everyone is coming down on her brother, he could use one person to be his ally, his confidant.
It was a nice episode. A touch naive, perhaps, but heartwarming - in the good sense of the word, not the sappy one.
With Guillermo Mota's DUI arrest, Jim Tracy is turning heartwarming into heart-frying.
If press reports are true, Tracy does not plan to talk to Mota about the incident until after legal procedings are completed.
It's not that Tracy won't discipline Mota now - even assuming he (or the Dodger organization) will discipline him down the road if Mota is found guilty. Tracy won't talk to Mota about it now.
In the Daily News:
"I'll talk to him when the appropriate time comes," Tracy said. "Believe me, I always do that. But right now it's a legal issue, and I'm not a policeman. I'm a baseball manager."
In the Times:
"What's taking place right now is obviously legal in nature, and until it gets to the point it's beyond a legal issue, it's about him and the law," Manager Jim Tracy said. "I don't know all the facts, and I also don't know the circumstances involved.
"Eventually, we'll find out. When we get to that point, then I'll get involved. I'll talk to him when the appropriate time comes. That's what I always do with my players. But we're not there yet."
You know, if I'm off-base on this, let me know. But am I crazy to think that an opportune way to learn the circumstances - as well as offer some perspective and advice - would be to talk to Mota? Regardless of how many yards we've run on the legal course? Are you telling me that just because a baseball manager is not a policeman, he has no business talking to a player about a personal problem?
Is this for real?
Tracy is being idiotic. Honestly, I'm hoping this is just misguided, false posturing for the media. I can't believe this is really his attitude toward a player who makes an outside-the-lines mistake.
Where's an Afterschool Special when you need one?
As for Today's Top Story ...
Adrian Beltre is Big Story No. 3 for the 2003 Dodgers. No. 1 was Kevin Brown's arrival at Spring Training. No. 2 was Joe Thurston. Boy, No. 1 and No. 2 are getting a lot of play these days.
Everyone interested in Adrian Beltre - me, the fans, the media, Jim Tracy, Dan Evans, Beltre himself - needs to just take a deep breath.
That's what I'm going to do.
Eric Gagne Is So Good
When Eric Gagne comes into pitch at Dodger Stadium, "Welcome to the Jungle" is blasted out of the inadequate single set of speakers behind center field, and an onslaught of blue and white cartoon Gagne heads overruns the scoreboard, in a hallucinatory montage not unlike the visions of Lisa Simpson after drinking tainted water on the "It's a Duff World" ride at Duff Gardens.
The entrance is ridiculous, and would be an embarrassment - if it weren't so wonderful. It captures what worked so well in the Wild Thing scenes with Charlie Sheen from the movie, Major League. Those scenes mocked the hoopla over a relief pitcher's entrance into game while marking a crowd's unmistakably sincere desperation and appreciation for a hero they know will bring victory home.
A home run by Shawn Green will send Dodger fans to their feet, but Eric Gagne is the only Dodger on the field today that breaks Dodger fans out of their shells and allows them to be the rarest of adjectives at a Dodger game - goofy and giddy.
Eric Gagne is so good that even though his entrance into a game borders on parody, it is a grand homage. They shouldn't be playing music from Guns N' Roses - they should be playing music from Braveheart. Or Waiting for Guffman.
Eric Gagne is so good that he should play himself on The Simpsons - and not necessarily in a baseball-themed episode. I see Homer hiring Gagne to be his stunt double.
Eric Gagne is so good that he could put out a disco single and even jaded audiophiles at Tower Records would line up to buy it.
Eric Gagne is so good that he could lift up his shirt on the pitcher's mound, squeeze his bellyfat, practice ventriloquism through his bellybutton, and enthrall audiences from Ontario to Ontario.
It doesn't mean Gagne is perfect. Just last night, in the middle of a fiery Jackson Pollock splattering of pitches that sent a dazed and confused Cincinnati Reds team to bed, Gagne walked raw rookie shortstop Felipe Lopez. But even the salt of the earth needs a dash of pepper once in a while.
Okay, last metaphor for a while. Here is the Gagne story, straight and true. And in fact, he is damn near perfect.
Last season, batters batted .189 against Gagne with an OPS of .535. Remarkable numbers. Atomic numbers.
This season, Gagne has split the atom. Through Tuesday, batters are batting .079 against Gagne with an OPS of .242.
He has faced 43 hitters this season. Three have singles. Three have walked, two intentionally. One has been hit by a pitch. That's all Gagne has allowed.
Gagne has struck out 20 of the 43 - nearly half. And yet, he has thrown only 151 pitches, averaging only 3.51 pitchers per batter. That means that aside from the 60 strikes that specifically account for his 20 strikeouts, Gagne has thrown only 91 other pitches to the 43 batters - an average of 2.11 extra pitches per batter. That figure accounts for all his balls, extra foul balls and those few hits. Amazing.
Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed runs in consecutive appearances only once: May 27 and May 29 against Milwaukee. He allowed one run in both, but had bigger leads to work with in both games and got saves in both games. Two runs in two games. That is Gagne's biggest slump.
Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed more than one run in a game only once. He allowed a two-run home run to Aaron Boone in Cincinnati, then hit Adam Dunn with a pitch. Dunn also scored, after Gagne was ejected for the game as if the HBP was retaliatory - even though it put the tying run at the plate. It was a condemnable event - but the only lowpoint in a season spent atop Mount Everest. (Okay, the metaphors are back.)
Tuesday night, Gagne returned to the scene of that crime and made things right again.
Eric Gagne is not out there day after day like Green, the Dodgers' most brilliant hitter but one who bebops frustratingly between blazing and arctic.
But without a doubt, Eric Gagne is the most exciting player on the Dodgers - because greatness is truly exciting. Greatness is liberating. And Gagne is great, every time out. It won't always be this way, but right now, it just is. Eric Gagne is Zeus on the mound, flinging lighting bolts at an awed civilization. Forgive the gushing of praise, but I am too tardy in expressing my appreciation for him.
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Deion got Sheffield to stay
From Terence Moore in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
He almost quit. Yes, Gary Sheffield nearly called it a career after his dream of being traded to the Braves was satisfied before last season.
I want to thank two sites that gave me a nice mention Monday: View from the 700 Level and The Futility Infielder. Both have been around longer than Dodger Thoughts and do a great job, and it's gratifying that they would even notice my efforts here.
Jay Jaffe, aka The Futility Infielder, questioned my color scheme on this site, which will not surprise those who know me - and my lifelong colorblindness. I will be consulting the proper authorities for advice on this matter. And to both Jay and Michael - I'm all too aware about the Dodgers' poor start when I attend games this year...
Vagaries of Vegas
Got a good letter late last night:
I read where you quickly overviewed the 51s' season thus far. I felt necessary to add a few things:
1) Cashman Field is a tremendous hitter's park. Barnes and Crosby aren't really that good.
2) Triple-A stats (more so than stats at other minor league levels) can be influenced by more than just parks. Sometimes, you're hitting against a major leaguer on a rehab assignment. Other times, you're hitting against a relief pitcher disguised as a starter for one day when the opposing team's starter gets the call that morning. On top of that, the PCL is a hitter's league. Cashman is a hitter's park in a hitter's league.
3) I think Romano would still be the first call-up. He's too versatile (I know, we've already got Dilbert) for them not to see as an asset if they decide to drop a pitcher and add a position player. If Kinkade, McGriff, et. al go down with injury, you're looking at Barnes. But if it's anybody else or a pitcher, Romano's who we'll see.
Here's my response:
I basically agree with the writer's sentiment (he didn't give his or her name) of not getting excited about these players, but not so much the specific points. I don't think that I went overboard in saying that Barnes and Crosby are hitting well. Yes, stats are inflated in Las Vegas, but that doesn't account for a guy batting .489, as Crosby was (when I wrote about him - he's down to .481 now). That doesn't mean that Crosby is a major-league talent, but a 1.529 OPS is worth a note, I think.
Barnes' .921 OPS is more dubious in value. I've been skeptical about Barnes since the Dodgers signed him before Spring Training, but I still am not sure he wouldn't be called up before Romano. Romano does have versatility, but the Dodgers' problems have little to do with a lack of versatility. They need some punch, and I think they might just take a chance that Barnes could provide some of that.
You may have noticed that twice last week, Jim Tracy let pitchers bat for themselves in the late innings - for no apparent reason except to conserve pinch-hitters in case he needed them later in the game. I can't imagine Tracy wants to keep doing that. Adding Romano won't solve that problem as well as adding Barnes would - if the Dodgers drop down to 11 pitchers.
But again, I definitely agree with the writer's major point. There just isn't a whole lot of position help down in Las Vegas right now.
Just saw this in the middle of my posting process.
In the Times, we hear about the great progress Guillermo Mota is making. I myself made note of it the other day.
In the Daily News: Mota gets arrested for DUI
According to Brian Dohn's article, "Mota is not expected to be suspended or fined by the team. The offense is a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum $1,200 fine and a suspended driver's license."
I'm sorry - am I reading that correctly? If Mota is guilty, the Dodgers don't have any team sanction at all against drunk driving? I'm not saying execute him, but nothing at all?
Drunk driving is an ongoing attempted assault with a deadly weapon. If for no other reason than bad citizenship, an employee of an organization who is guilty of drunk driving should be disciplined by the organization.
Mota will make approximately $300,000 this season from baseball. I'm not sure that a fine of 0.4 percent of his salary and a suspended license, with no additional punishment from the sport, will send Mota the proper message.
P.S. This morning, the headline on Dodgers.com is Dodgers start road trip on high note.
Meanwhile, over at Dodgers.com, Ken Gurnick interviews Tommy Lasorda about one of the most memorable comeback seasons in Dodger history - 1982.
Early readers of this site - Hi Greg, Hi Brax - will recall that I wrote about this season in two of my first entries (August 8 and August 12). The Dodgers wiped out a 10 1/2-game deficit to the Atlanta Braves in under two weeks.
However, Gurnick writes:
"That the Braves ultimately won the division on the last day of the 1982 season, when Joe Morgan's home run off Terry Forster at Candlestick Park eliminated the Dodgers, doesn't change the fact that the Dodgers have come back from way back before."
Maybe not in the literal sense. But the whole point of building a big lead is that it gives you a cushion. It allows you the luxury of a slump. No one enjoyed that the summer of '82 more than I did, but the fall of '82 brought a hard lesson. Even if you have time to come back, even if you can come back, you need to have enough to finish the job. You have to do more than outplay those teams
until you catch them. You have to continue outplaying them. It's a lot of work to dig out of a hole - and stay out of it.
It's not even about taking things one game at a time. You have to take things one pitch at a time. You have to focus on simply doing your job better. Of course a comeback can happen - but you need to do tangible things to make it happen.
Lack of Due Process
In the Chicago Tribune today, Paul Sullivan calls the Cubs' acquisition of Mark Grudzielanek from the Dodgers "the early-season favorite for steal of the year."
He doesn't compare it straight-up to Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, but he does use that all-time steal as a scene-setter for his story, which is saying something.
I think Sullivan knows that Grudzielanek won't necessarily finish the season batting .347 and tied for the league lead in runs scored, and he is correct in implying that the Cubs would have taken two brooms and a mop-to-be-named-later for Todd Hundley, much less someone who would spark the Cubs into first place at the start of the season. But even looking at the long term, Sullivan does very little to mitigate his enthusiasm for the trade that sent Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Dodgers for Hundley:
"Grudzielanek, who turns 33 on June 30, becomes a free agent after the season. If he continues to spark the lineup and Hill doesn't progress in Iowa, Hendry will have to make an important decision on the team's immediate future."
Isn't it a little soon to go into this kind of speculation, even for speculation's sake? The court of baseball requires a bit more than a three-week trial to determine whether a steal has been committed.
I will tip my cap to Grudzielanek, though. Though few expected anything of him, he has if nothing else come out strong in Chicago.
Monday, April 21, 2003
Now That's Progress
Sunday's outburst moved the Dodgers from 29th in baseball in scoring to 23rd.
I've added to the template a link to the Las Vegas 51s stats, courtesy of Baseball America.
Two guys who are hitting well are Larry Barnes (.980 OPS), who made a big impression in Spring Training, and Bubba Crosby (1.529 OPS), who did not. Crosby, who appears to be mainly DH-ing, is batting .489 and slugging 1.000 in 47 at-bats.
Not much to report from the other hitters. Joe Thurston is getting on base (.383 OBP) and playing errorless ball but has only two extra-base hits in 70 at-bats - not really enough to get him promoted, at least while Jolbert Cabrera is on his fluke power surge. Chin-Feng Chen's numbers are similar to Thurston's. No one else is really worth mentioning.
On the mound, the big news is that Wilson Alvarez threw six perfect innings in his first start. Steve Colyer is 1-0 with three saves and a 2.84 ERA in six games. Another castoff, Andrew Lorraine, a player I interviewed for the Daily News when he was at Hart High School, is 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA in three starts, but is averaging only 5 2/3 innings per game. Victor Alvarez and Bryan Corey have not allowed a run in a combined 17 2/3 innings.
Jason Romano, who made the Opening Day roster, has an OPS of .456. If the Dodgers go back to 11 pitchers, Barnes looks like the first callup, first baseman or not. But I guess we need to keep our eye on Crosby, a former first-round pick who has never done much in the minors to get excited about up to now.
I'm McGriff, Dammit
Fred McGriff, for all his other pluses and minuses, is proving to be an interesting quote. Disturbing, but interesting.
The Crime Dog is not the Humble Dog. He's been around too long for anyone to teach him any new tricks.
This weekend, Jim Tracy held a 20-plus minute meeting with the players to get them to refocus their hitting approach. Despite his four hits in Sunday's game, McGriff didn't profess to get much out of the discussion:
"It was the same thing that every manager says - we've got to play better," McGriff said. "We all know what we've got to do, you know what I'm saying? I know what I have to do. I have to play well and I have to hit. Other guys have to pitch well."
Fred also compared himself to Tiger Woods. He wasn't saying he was as good at ... well, anything, as Tiger Woods. But McGriff was saying that people need to be patient, because everyone has to make adjustments. Just like Tiger Woods.
Just like Zippy Chippy, too. No one really debates whether people have to make adjustments. The question is, can you make the adjustments?
By the way, if you ever hear McGriff interviewed on radio or television, tell me if he doesn't sound just like Eddie Murphy.
The Tommy Game
Oh how absurd it
All seems without any proof.
You didn't hear it
You didn't see it
You never heard it not a word of it.
- The Who, "You Didn't Hear It (1921)," from Tommy
I couldn't go to the game; it wasn't on TV; bad reception on radio was disturbing wife and baby; computer was in the other room.
I'm less excited about the unrealistic hitting outburst than the fact that, with all the doom and gloom, there were two big rallies last week.
I am excited that Dave Roberts has found a groove, working his way on base by hook or by crook or by nook or by the book.
I am concerned that no one but Jolbert Cabrera hits home runs.
I am excited that Hideo Nomo could survive an extra-base onslaught in the second inning to get a victory.
I am concerned that instead of improving, the Dodger starting pitching is regressing.
And what about this headline in the Times Sunday?
Brown Weakened by Mystery Illness
Just the kind of thing you want to read with SARS floating around. What's next?
San Francisco Giants Harvesting Plutonium?
Sunday, April 20, 2003
Worth About $1.5 Million on the Open Market
How'd you like to have a player who, with 617 at-bats in a 162-game season, batted .233 with a .655 OPS, 144 hits, 12 home runs, 54 RBI, 58 runs, 30 doubles, two triples, 60 walks, 123 strikeouts, 13 stolen bases in 19 attempts?
That player is the Dodgers. Those are the stats they have so far this season.
Remarkably, the Dodger stats are just about identical to their opponents. The Dodgers are 144 for 617; opponents are 144 for 618. Both have batting averages of .233 and on-base percentages of .308. The Dodgers have 12 home runs; opponents have 13. The Dodgers have 214 total bases; opponents have 213. The Dodgers have an OPS of .655; opponents are at .652.
However, the Dodgers are 7-11; opponents are 11-7.
Get Busy Living, or Get Busy Dying
Jason Reid in the Times today questioned Jim Tracy's decision to pitch to Neifi Perez with runners on second and third and two out in the second inning, with the pitcher on deck.
Folks, if you can't get out Neifi Perez, one of the worst hitters in baseball, in a clutch situation, you're probably not going to win a ballgame. And if you're afraid you can't get him out, instead walking him and accelerating your progress through the order toward Barry Bonds, you might as well give up trying.
Tracy made the right decision in that situation. With Bonds on the other team, you can't afford to pitch around anyone else.